By: Judy Murphy of Pentecostal Evangel
Would you pay $50 or more for a pair of simple canvas shoes? What if the purchase of those shoes also benefited an impoverished child? Turns out, millions of consumers do.
It's the latest trend in marketing: social entrepreneurship, or social enterprise. TOMS Shoes is one of many businesses at the forefront of a new business model that doesn't just focus on the bottom line; it also aims to solve a social problem.
While corporations and small businesses alike have a long tradition of charitable giving, what is different about social entrepreneurship is the way business interacts with those causes. Increasingly, businesses are finding financial success and social good aren't necessarily polar opposites. Companies can market and sell products that not only turn a profit, but also make significant contributions to society.
"Research shows, when all other things are equal, people are going to go for the product associated with a cause they believe in," says Rick Waggoner, senior director of corporate relations for Convoy of Hope.
A down economy plays a role in the boom of entrepreneurship. Students are creating their own jobs in the wake of thousands of jobs being eliminated by the economic meltdown. But the "social aspect" of the trend is fueled by a generation that is more socially conscious than ever before.
"Young people are looking at the issues around them in the world, and asking ‘What can I do to correct the problem?'" says Tony Mendes, director of the Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship in Denton, Texas. "Surveys of college students show that they are increasingly saying, ‘I don't just want a job; I want something that has meaning and purpose.'"
And colleges and universities are noticing. Mendes, who also is clinical professor of management for the University of North Texas College of Business, says there is a growing number of courses and even degrees available in social entrepreneurship.
Waggoner agrees, saying although the concept is new, schools putting entrepreneurial-themed material in the curriculum bodes well for the future.
Some Assemblies of God schools have taken notice. Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, is offering a graduate program in social enterprise. In Lakeland, Florida, Southeastern University piloted a "Business as Ministry" course in the spring semester, will launch a minor in the fall, with goals for a bachelor and graduate program in the future.
"What is different between secular programs and the BAM program is that students can use their entrepreneurial skills and abilities not only to build a business that solves social issues, but to intentionally introduce the kingdom of God in the hearts of the people they are working with," says Joe Childs, dean of the College of Business and Legal Studies at Southeastern.
The BAM program will be more than classroom studies, Childs says. Students will travel to Colombia in the fall and to El Salvador next summer to work with microfinance organizations helping people start small businesses.
Traditionally, faith-based nonprofits have depended on charitable giving for funding. Because of new challenges brought on by the lagging economy, some are now beginning to see this new model as a way to generate new revenue and grow ministries.
One such group is the Eurasia office of Assemblies of God World Missions. Eurasia has been developing coffee shops for churches called Eurasia Café. Already, cafés have been opened at Peoples Church in Salem, Oregon; Cornerstone Church in Bowie, Maryland; and Cape Coral (Florida) Assembly of God.
"For years, missions departments and missionaries have received offerings from churches, and pastors have encouraged congregations to give to missions," says Charity Reeb, director for . "By setting up a ‘missions-focused' café in their church, they create exposure to world events and missions projects. They develop sustainable business models that bring income to missions projects, so churches are able to focus on sending more missionaries with their missions dollars."