Waiting on the World to Change, by Matt

There is a growing trend in today's marketplace--businesses that not only sell a product, but engineer their business model around supporting humanitarian causes or fair trade. Most of us have seen products like this or maybe have even bought a pair of shoes with the added satisfaction that a person in need would also benefit from your purchase. I'm hyped about this trend because it's truly beginning to change things around the world while expanding the role of business.

Traditionally we've seen businesses with philanthropic interests donate money toward causes and rely on non-profits to figure out how to best use it. While I certainly don't think that's a bad thing, it does add a "middle man" to the process, and at times well intentioned non-profits end up spending as high as 30-40% of their donations on administrative costs and fund raising.

Ever since the Revenue Act of 1954, the IRS has used the 501(c) designation for organizations like this. While it definitely helps non-profits lower their overhead by exempting them from taxes, it has also come to define our culture's perception of how to effect positive change in the world. After all, if you're a non-profit everyone knows that you are aiming to benefit others with your proceeds--and rightly so. The problem is when you are a for-profit business that seeks out the same type of social impact, often there is skepticism of the motives or sincerity of that business because of the fact that they keep some of the profit.

However, before the 501(c) designation existed, an organization didn't have to choose between making money and making a positive impact on society. They were simply judged by how they conducted themselves in the marketplace. Why can't a business both make money and drive social change? What if the way a business made money was directly tied to the causes it supported? Is that even possible? That is why I'm stoked to see a new way of doing business emerging in America. We call it, "business with a purpose". There are many ways to accomplish it, but the way we do it is by using a manufacturer who supports fair trade by hiring those who have been exploited by forced labor and/or human trafficking. They train them to sew, pay them a fair wage, and teach them life skills to help them become a contributor to their  community. The result is the more clothing we sell, the more money goes to that cause because they actually produce the product.

If you think about it, this model underscores the fundamental purpose of business. At it's core, business is and should be a mutually beneficial enterprise. It serves a community by meeting a need while providing a livelihood for the people running it--amazing! And my favorite part is the fair trade aspect is self-sustaining because it doesn't rely on donations or fund raising; it's integrated into the business plan. Everyone involved
benefits, and social change is pushed forward simultaneously. The way we all do business really can drive social change, but it requires intentionality from us as consumers to choose companies that care just as much about the impact they make as they do the profits they take.