A couple of years ago, social entrepreneurship made for some of the hottest startups out. And what’s not to love about them? They were for-profit businesses out to change the world by giving back to those in need. However, some of these firms faced some negative backlash, as they weren’t exactly what we thought they were cracked up to be.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of this is the shoe brand TOMS. At one point it seemed as though everyone mother had those iconic flats, but even more, it made people feel good that their purchase was also donating a pair to someone in need. At least, that’s what we thought was happening.
While TOMS were donating a pair of shoes with every purchase, a few issues with their model were quickly brought to the surface. First, not every person was in need of shoes (in fact, many firms criticized TOMS for using what’s called ‘poverty porn’-highlighting the worst portions of a country to others as standard condition.) Second, shoes aren’t the only things a person needs. And third, the company was making a significant profit off their margins.
Since then, TOMS has made great strides in improving their charitable efforts, but their model left a level of skepticism into what social entrepreneurship actually was. After all, this model was relatively a new thing in the startup world (and even with companies like Warby Parker exploding to the national forefront), some firms still didn’t see the same level of growth. However, all of that’s going to change very soon:
Strength in Numbers
The number of social entrepreneurship companies has exploded in the past few years as more and more people have been using the ‘change for good’ model to do some great.
There are a couple of explanations as to why this is happening. First, social entrepreneurship has less of this “wow” factor to its model (that is, it’s become more commonplace and thus is focused more on the charity rather than the celebrity aspect of charity). And second, the impact of social entrepreneurs are after is less on a global “let’s change the entire world” scale but rather “how can I change my world?”
Taking A Personal Perspective
Perhaps one of the biggest differences that’s taken place in the social entrepreneurial world is those that are taking a step back and looking at practical approaches to addressing problems.
A great example is MADI, who take a Buy One Give One model for underwear. While it might sound a little silly at first, just go down to any local Goodwill or Salvation Army, and you’ll see- no one ever donates underwear. Which makes sense considering those who donate clothes also envision if they’d wear it themselves, and in that position they would never want to wear someone else’s (or even someone wearing theirs). Yet, this cause it to be one of the most widely underserved market in the charity world.
Another excellent use-case is Norton Point, who are doing some pretty revolutionary changes in the sunglasses world. Founded by two friends in 2015, the company developed the world’s first line of sunglasses made from consumer plastic recovered from the oceans – namely, high-density-polyethylene (a plastic that’s strictly made from recycled goods). The process of making these glasses is rather simple: the plastic recovered in Haiti by people in the local communities and is processed into plastic pellets, which are then melted and molded into the shape of sunglasses. But Norton Point is planning to recover plastic from more spots in the future, namely Bahamas, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia.
We’ve been warned that the ocean will have more plastic than fish in it by 2050, their contributions are solving a global problem that could genuinely change the world. Norton Point believes that the 8 million metric tons of plastic flowing into our oceans is one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges, and they have chosen to become part of the solution. The company also has a “one to one” pledge, where they pledge to remove one pound (450g) of plastic from the ocean for each pair of sunglasses that they sell. Norton Point’s business model is not only smart but also sustainable and environmentally-friendly and It won’t take long before that adds up to some real progress.
Moving Forward With (Local) Change
Beyond just the apparel examples listed above, there are plenty of other firms doing some great work that can be replicated in your town. Just this past year, DC restaurant Foodhini was lauded for their efforts in bringing immigrant and refugee chefs in to cook their country’s local dishes (both giving them a job as well as letting them expose locals to international cuisine). And while the success of a restaurant like that is contingent upon a few factors in your town, the overall trend of social giving going local is becoming more increasingly common.
Whether you’re looking to make strides locally or globally, the world of social entrepreneurship is about to become one of the most prominent business models out. As the buzz has settled and people are now able to work without the mission of ‘celebrity,’ it seems as though these firms are here to stay. More, the impact they’re making is based on personal observation rather than trying to make grandiose strides. Yes, while the startup world loves lauding “the next big industry to be disrupted,” expect social giving to strive for years to come. As long as there’s those in need, then charity will never die, which means that these models will continue to grow for a long, long time.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.