The movement toward “conscious capitalism,” a term popularized by John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, and Raj Sisodia, a marketing professor at Babson College, has given rise to a completely new breed of entrepreneur. Social entrepreneurs — founders who make societal improvement a core business objective — have started some of the world’s most successful businesses and improved the well-being of countless individuals, and our planet, in the process.
Entrepreneurs like Blake Mycoskie, who pioneered the “one-for-one” business model as the founder of TOMS, and Jacqueline Novogratz, who started Acumen to fund businesses pursuing social good, have made giving back profitable. Now, even the world’s largest corporations are realizing the need to embed social impact into their core brand and business strategies.
Modern consumers are increasingly using their wallets to express their beliefs and values, and today’s top talent heavily considers the values and social impact of potential employers before accepting a job offer. Entrepreneurs who don’t understand this could fall behind, while those who shift their focus to social causes move forward. To put yourself in the latter category, you’ll need to cultivate the following three things:
1. A global network
Most social entrepreneurs think big, and that’s a good thing. You’re someone who wants to impact the world in the most meaningful way possible. To do that, you’re going to need connections. After all, companies like Wine To Water, Three Avocados, and Do Amore wouldn’t be able to provide clean water and education in developing countries without a global network. For social entrepreneurs, networking is critical, and it must extend beyond your university alumni directory and LinkedIn connections.
It will help to partner with organizations like the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network that support social entrepreneurs by facilitating connections and bolstering the social entrepreneurship ecosystem. But don’t be afraid to deploy grassroots techniques in order to spread the word about what you’re doing. Handing out business cards at conferences, going the distance to attend funding events or networking group meetings — you have to give yourself as many chances as possible to meet people who might be able to help you. And don’t forget to keep in touch regularly with the people you do meet.
2. An instinct for when to take action
To succeed at social entrepreneurship, you can’t be happy with simply handing out money to fix a problem. Trust your instincts when you sense a problem you can impact in a hands-on way. For instance, Jason Aramburu worked with biochar, a fertilizer created from plant waste, as a research scientist, and that experience led him to found the organization re:char, which provides biochar to farmers in developing countries to encourage sustainable agricultural practices. Rather than throwing money at an issue, re:char aims to directly provide a resource farmers need.
Similarly, The Giving Keys, which sells jewelry through its online store, opted to provide jobs to people transitioning out of homelessness rather than simply donate a portion of profits to efforts that combat the problem. Because of the company’s choice, more than 70 individuals have regular income coming in as they transition from homelessness. When you come up with a solution to a social problem, you need to rally people around that solution — even if they’re not necessarily invested in the cause. “Make your product or service the star of the show and your cause the supporting actor,” recommends Tyler Merrick of Project 7.
3. A service-focused mindset
Whether or not your business is currently engaged directly in supporting a specific social cause, a service mindset will help you succeed professionally. To develop this mindset, you need to genuinely care about your customers and their needs beyond wanting your business to make money and succeed. “During every client exchange, take a decidedly different approach from the normal ‘What can I get out of this?’ attitude,” advises Jonathan Keyser, founder of commercial real estate firm Keyser. “Instead approach the moment with a ‘What can I do to serve this person?’ mentality. The change in tone, interaction, and ability to build strong relationships will be monumental.” It sounds simple, and it is.
Still, it’s an inward change that you must commit to making every day until it becomes second nature. Almost every company will tell the world that it is “service-oriented.” It’s good marketing, after all. But social impact doesn’t come from a marketing message. It takes hard work, focus, and the creativity to intertwine social good with the pursuit of profit. Individuals and companies that are actually service-oriented tend to stand out because they’re focused on more than just good marketing, and that isgood business.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.