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Attention Nonprofits: Watch Out for the Social Entrepreneurs

Hi. My name is Sam, and I'm a social entrepreneur.

I had the extreme privilege of speaking to two business classes at Belmont University this morning. I got a chance to tell the tale that is CoolPeopleCare – how it started, where we are, and what we'd like to become.

Belmont University is unique as it begins to offer a social entrepreneurship major. For the first time, students can focus on what it means to build a business that is focused on multiple bottom lines, focusing on serving the community while running their operation. No longer are students forced to choose between operating a greedy business or working for an altruistic nonprofit. Now, students can live and work in that lovely overlapping Venn diagram of a place where their need to make a living can coincide and address the largest needs of the world.

Very recently, this hybrid of a concept has been gaining attention and momentum. Obviously, when someone wins the Nobel Peace Prize for their creation of a banking and loan system that lifts people out of poverty, they're bound to gain attention. And now, Muhammad Yunus is the poster child for all of us out there who want to change the world in a new, meaningful and lasting way.

Recently, Yunus penned a piece for the Christian Science Monitor that is breathtakingly brilliant. In just a few short paragraphs, Yunus accurately describes the emerging world of social entrepreneurship and why new ideas and investments are needed in the space. While social entrepreneurship alone won't cure all of society’s ills, it can get us darn-well close.

Yunus hits the nail on the head, when he points out the benefits of social entrepreneurship:

Traditional philanthropy and nonprofits generate a social gain, but they do not design their programs as self-sustaining business models. A charitable dollar can be used only once. A dollar invested in a self-sustaining social business is recycled endlessly.

Words and impact like that make me all warm and fuzzy inside. Not because I'm running off into the wild blue yonder of need and impact, but because for once, we can get a glimpse of all the good that can be done from the dedicated and talented individuals out there wanting to save the world.

Today's talks at Belmont were the perfect complement to a few experiences I had in Boston a few weeks ago. While there, I met with a handful of folks working in the nonprofit sector, all of whom were under the age of thirty. And while I've seen this before, I was a bit amazed. After all, Boston is a bit more expensive to live in, compared to Nashville or Birmingham.

And so I asked them: Why, as a young person would you want to live here and work in the nonprofit world? Why not find a job in finance or business, pay your dues, climb the ladder and give back once you’re more established?

And every answer was the same: I want to make a difference and this is the best way to do so right now.

I didn't ask the students the same question this morning, but I did get a glimpse of the kind of people they want to be and the kind of good they want to do once they have a degree. And finally, they have a valid option, where their passion to save the world meets their talents as a businessperson. For this budding crop of entrepreneurs and world changers, making a difference is no longer an afterthought – it's on the forefront of their minds. It's as different as a business deciding to donate a percentage of revenue as opposed to a percentage of profits: one is a commitment on the front end, the other is just a 'maybe' on the back end.

I was asked this morning, "So if you went to a school that offered a social entrepreneurship major, would you major in that?"


The nonprofit sector needs to take notice. What was once a luxury for them – the ability to recruit, young, affordable and reliable talent – may be slipping from their grasp. And it's no longer a conversation just about salary and income. It's just as much about meaning as it ever was.

Today, when I recounted the history of my own passion to make a difference and my own quest to do so professionally, a student remarked, "So it sounds like CoolPeopleCare has provided a perfect blend of all the areas you wanted to impact while allowing you to use your talents to their fullest."

Precisely. No longer does this generation have to 'pay their dues' anywhere – not even at a nonprofit. They can do what they love and change the world simultaneously. They can pave their own road instead of walking down the road more traveled by boomers and Gen-X before them. They can launch their own venture and be happy – not just because they get to be their own boss, but because they get to make their own impact.

No longer is good and meaning closely guarded by 501(c)(3)'s – it's being found in the small businesses that crop up to address great need. The decision to go nonprofit or forprofit will soon be a no-brainer.

I'd love to offer some sort of silver lining to the nonprofit folks out there, but I can't. Not because they're aren't any, but because I don't need to. This might just be as good as it gets.

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