The project undoubtedly was a blast for our team. We each had the opportunity to display a certain talent and use this towards the creation of something that told an important and unique story. We learned a great deal through the process both about the company and social entrepreneurship in general, and we were able to share our creative product with an appreciative audience. So not only was this project a blast, but it was incredibly worthwhile. Yet, for some reason, after its completion, I wondered if we had accomplished what we had set out to do. More poignantly, the question I kept finding myself coming back to was: did we help?
Or, in other words, does art themed around social entrepreneurship truly contribute to the betterment of humanity through business, or is it just purely an art expression for aesthetic purposes. If I am a rapper who writes songs about Social Ventures and different issues going on around the world, am I a social entrepreneur?
Art's role in Social Entrepreneurship is to help a social enterprise gain traction and publicity. But much more than that, art's is to build a bridge ... between the strictly logical and the emotional. By linking hope with memories and inspiring courage, art serves to make tragedies bearable by connecting one's emotions with the cause.
[And that is also] the essence of social entrepreneurship! It's not just a form of business centered solely on profits, but a form of business that is also about bettering the common good. To better the common good, one needs to have a passion to make change, and this is what art evokes in us.
The rap song we created for Union Microfinanza doesn't just inform the public about their mission, but it emotionally connects the listener with the problems of Honduras and, hopefully, evokes a sense of compassion among the listener to care about the cause. This, after all, is where creativity and growth stem from in Social Entrepreneurship, through caring about a particular issue and shifting the focus of Entrepreneurship from solely garnering profit, to garnering profit with a greater cause.
So now group beansquad can rest easy, as we truly did help Union Microfinanza in eliciting these emotions surrounding their cause among the video's viewership. We succeeded, after all. That is, if the video goes viral.
It's Sunday after Thanksgiving. Christmas must be tomorrow, or maybe "Black Friday" has become "Black Every Day" based on my email inbox and all the TV commercials I've seen the past few days.
Buying stuff is alive and well.
But something else is in the air, something I'm reminded of as I plow through end-of-course papers written by my students in my course on "Solving Societal Problems Through Innovation and Enterprise." That something else is the spectrum of ways we can vote with our wallets to bend corporate behavior.
I believe that we can shape the evolution of a better society by creating better tests and then amplifying the efforts of companies that pass them (worldchangingbook.com). What follows are sketches, inspired from students, that give illustration. As these ideas continue to percolate, you'll be hearing more from me about nouveau consumerism.
Mia B. alerted me to consumerism for "slactivists." These are people who aren't deeply involved with political or social causes but can be induced to participate when the situation is right.
Carrotmobs (carrot: as in reward, as opposed to a stick) are relatively ordinary consumers who, when given a signal, mob a store that commits to using an agreed-upon percentage of the mob's revenue to make "sustainability" improvements like changing its lighting or buying organic seeds to grow and sell more healthful produce. 9carrots (9: I have no idea) operates similarly by letting shoppers find participating stores, buy lunch or a ladder there, and receive "9carrot receipts," which direct 10% of their purchases to the proprietor's energy upgrades and allow consumers to track these energy improvements.
For consumers, these can be fun experiences, maybe a bit time consuming if lines get long (but, hey couldn't that make them more fun?), and they just buy what they already intended to anyway. Companies learn that a more inclusive way of being tested ("I'll shop at your store more if you're more socially relevant") can help their business.
TOMS Shoes (TOMS: as in "tomorrow," not Thomas) creates a generational dividing line. I've polled friends and family in my age group -- above 30, well above -- and no one (and I've asked at least two people) has heard of TOMS. But as Mary Fritz begain her paper, "It's impossible not to notice that all the cool kinds are wearing TOMS." TOMS combines consumer choice with a business model built at its foundation to create a better society.
TOMS Shoes creates a better world through consumerism by donating one pair of new shoes for every pair that someone buys. This model has placed one million pairs of shoes on the feet of poor children.
Why shoes? When kids go barefoot it shows that they're poor, but it also contributes to their poverty by increasing the odds that they'll contract disease, get injured, or be denied admission to school. Other buy-one-give-one companies are sprouting up, selling everything from eye glasses and clothes to books, food bars, and even services like tutoring.
Whereas 9carrots lets consumers know that, if they need Crest toothpaste, they can purchase it "sustainably" by shopping at a particular store, the buy-one-give-one business model shapes consumer preferences. Consumers view TOMS as "social" shoes and seek them out, creating a strong, "hip" brand.
GoodGuide is a step ahead of TOMS, possibly 140,000 steps. GoodGuide lets consumers choose products based on characteristics covering their entire life cycle (from manufacture to disposal), helping put in place new and better tests of which products are best.
GoodGuide takes publicly available information and lets consumers conveniently use it to compare various products. Consumers choosing coffee, T-shirts, or even cars can make comparisons based on societal/environmental considerations including their toxicity, greenhouse gas emissions, labor practices, etc. All told, 140,000 products are rated using over 1,000 different indicators. GoodGuide's genius? Making its free information operate in the background on consumers' computers and smart phones while they create shopping lists, order items online, or want to spot compare at the supermarket. Social comparisons become no more burdensome than deciding that 2 for $1.50 is a better price than 1 for $1.
Bigger efforts to promote sustainable purchasing, led by other parties, are under way, too. Those will have to wait for another day.
Still, the best way to vote with your feet may just be to walk the other way. Ask Patagonia.
Economic development today is about literally hundreds and thousands of little things that you do slowly and cumulatively at the neighborhood and community level. Building partnerships involving universities, building clusters, many, many small things that accumulate, that create some economic viability. ... That's what Detroit has to do and [it] all the assets ... It has spectacular universities like Wayne State, it has the Cranbrook Academy, the center of modern design, industrial design, and furniture design. It has two of the greatest research universities on the planet, very close by at Ann Arbor and Lansing, the University of Michigan and Michigan State. And it has a fabulous design/architecture community, creative energy in its low income communities, a tremendous, really resilient African-American community, a phenomenal Arabic community that will do anything to save and pitch in... [and] it has this legacy of musical talent that is just incredible and it continues to propulsively create new musical styles.
All of those things add up to a kind of creativity and innovation being in Detroit's DNA. But [sustainable growth is] not going to come from a federal bail-out from the auto industry, it's not going to come from a big casino and convention and stadium project, it's going to come from really the small-scale efforts when people are empowered, where neighborhoods are empowered.