Ask The Mompreneur: Many New Ventures Fueled By Social Activism

By Jennie Wong
The Charlotte Observer.

This week’s “Ask the Mompreneur” features an interview with Sandra Marshall, a social impact consultant for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, on the topic of social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurs are receiving increasing attention and support, including from programs such as the Carolina Center for Public Service at the University of North Carolina, which awards Bryan Fellowships to student entrepreneurs.

Recent fellows include Nikhil Jyothinagaram and Cody Owens, who are starting a company that connects donors to educational nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, in India.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

QUESTION: What does it mean to be a social entrepreneur?

ANSWER: Social entrepreneurs are people working to solve some of society’s most pressing issues. They are business people and change-makers who have a passion for helping people and improving the community.

I consider myself a social entrepreneur. After working in the nonprofit sector for more than 17 years, I launched my company, Sandra Marshall & Associates, to work with individuals and organizations to help fuel social impact in the community here in Charlotte and around the world.

I also founded a Charlotte, N.C. nonprofit, Project Scientist, to help inspire and empower girls with an aptitude, talent and passion for science, technology, engineering and math. It’s a cause that has always been important to me, especially since becoming the mom of two daughters.

Q: What are the current trends in social entrepreneurship?

A: More and more, kids, teens and young adults want to have a positive impact on the world. They are taking action and mobilizing their peers and even adults to address problems important to them. They are donating to charities, volunteering to help others and even engaging in social entrepreneurship, taking the passion they feel about a cause and undertaking a business-like activity that earns money (or provides other resources) to support that cause.

Alex Scott, for example, was four years old and battling cancer when she started a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research. After a year, she had raised $2,000, and by the time she was 8 years old, she’d raised $1 million through the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Many kids like Alex are motivated to pursue a social entrepreneurial activity because they’ve been touched by something serious or significant and are moved to take action.

Q: Does being a social entrepreneur require setting up a nonprofit organization?

A: You don’t have to start a nonprofit to become a social entrepreneur. Blake Mycoskie was inspired to create a philanthropic “for-profit business that was sustainable and not reliant on donations.” The result was Toms Shoes, which promises that for every pair of shoes it sells, it will give away another pair to a child in need. Today Toms has given away millions of pairs of shoes to children living in poverty in more than 51 countries and extended its 1:1 model to include eyewear.

Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to be financially successful while also making the world a better place?

A: People today want to support businesses that give back to the community. According to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR study, 91 percent of global consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality. This means that embarking into social entrepreneurship or adding corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs to your business strategy can provide ways to extend your brand and business to appeal to a larger consumer base. This just proves being a responsible steward in your community doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice your business profits.

Q: How do you get started?

A: The first step in social entrepreneurism is figuring out what you are passionate about. Is it improving the environment? Helping the homeless? Providing education to other kids like you who don’t have access to all the great resources you do? You want to do something important to you because it’s not always going to be easy. Project Scientist is incredibly demanding of my time, between grant writing, potential donor/sponsor meetings, camper recruitment, and it’s on top of my full-time job. At the end of the day, though, it’s something that is important to me and the girls and women we serve.

If you’re still not sure about the issue you want to tackle, look at your business model and the goods and services you offer. Are there issues or causes that are a natural fit?

Once you have identified your issue, start thinking outside the box. Social entrepreneurship usually requires that you approach a problem in an innovative way. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and keep trying if your approach doesn’t seem to work at first.
Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book “Ask the Mompreneur” and the founder of the social shopping website

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