Blog Action Day: What is a Social Business?

I want to talk about the concept of social business in this post for Blog Action Day 2008 on the topic of poverty.

I first learned about this in Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism by Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Prize winning creator of Grameen Bank and the concept of social business. I urge you to read this book for a complete understand of what can be accomplished with social businesses.

A social business does not have profit as its objective. It has a social objective. Social business employs workers and creates goods or service. A social business is not run to create ever increasing profits for the stakeholders. A social business has the goal of creating social benefit for those whose life it touches.

Yes, a social business is a real business and must make money. The money does not go to the investors (except to repay their original investment). The money is used to sustain the business and to achieve the social objectives.

Maybe you’ve heard of the social business run by and for the “telephone ladies” in Bangladesh (where Yunus started, although his work covers the world now). But even in relatively rich countries like the U.S.A., I can envision quite a few social businesses that would help alleviate some of our problems. Two of the social businesses Yunus mentions in his book are small health clinics and small yogurt manufacturing and distribution businesses.

How about a social business that rents inexpensive solar power units to people who can’t afford solar panels, sends someone to install and maintain it, employs people, and lets people disconnect from the grid, save money, and improve the environment?

Our highway infrastructure, especially bridges, needs improvement and updating. How about a toll bridge building social business (or a bunch of such businesses)? It would employ people, improve bridge safety, and save tax money.

How about bikes? All kinds of bikes for rent everywhere, but especially in poor neighborhoods where getting to work is a problem. You could rent them with a credit card for maybe 25 cents a ride. People too poor to have a credit card could purchase prepaid cards that would let them ride for a lesser amount—maybe 10 or 20 cents a ride. I’m talking about all kinds of bikes: electric bikes, bikes with baskets on the handlebars for a purse or a lunch box, bikes with seats in the back for kids, three-wheelers with a big basket for something like a couple of grocery bags and a gallon of milk in the back. Bikes everywhere, just everywhere, so many bikes that NOT riding one would be silly. This would help people get through their day, cut down on air pollution, employ a lot of people who would take care of the bikes or sell prepaid cards, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Social business is an idea that every person needs to know more about. You can start by reading the book I mentioned in the beginning, then maybe start a social business and do something concrete to help end poverty.

In a world where the quest for quarterly profit has run a lot of the world’s economy into the cauldrons of hell, I think it’s time to add a new idea to the mix. That idea is social business. Social business is proven to work in the alleviation of poverty.

What can you do in particular? One thing is to help the students in this high poverty American school by donating a few dollars to Journalism Students Need a Computer. Visit Blog Action Day 08 for more ideas and easy ways to participate by setting up a microfinance loan through Kiva or a donation through change.org.

You can read many other Blog Action Day posts by looking at the main site. An example of another such post you may be interested in is 30 Simple Ways to Battle Poverty with Technology. Another way to track the action in the blogosphere on this topic is with Google Blogsearch. Follow BlogActionDay on Twitter.

9 thoughts on “Blog Action Day: What is a Social Business?

  1. interesting. :)

    for my part, i turn to sites like freerice, kiva, and goodsearch, as ways to help alleviate poverty online.

    kiva’s something along the grameen bank’s lines, microfinance, not sure if it’s for profit though. i don’t think so.

    saw this post via the front page of blog action day. it’s great that you’re participating. :)

    kouji haikus last blog post.. philippine poverty haiku poems

  2. Pingback: What is Blog Action Day? A chance to help fight global poverty. — Our Latest Discovery

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  4. @Bethp: Your article is excellent. I’m glad you explained the Danone-Grameen Foods yogurt business as another example of how social business works.

    @kouji haiku: Yes, Kiva is a system for micro loans rather like Grameen Bank. One difference is that I think you as an individual lender have more control over who you loan money to with Kiva.

  5. Such an inspiring post. We really need to participate in fighting poverty especially in difficult financial times such as now. Given that businesses like these are not intended to make profit what you get back in return is so much more fulfilling. Besides, like they say whatever you give wholeheartedly will come back to you a hundred fold.

  6. I actually have never heard of a social business before, but I like the idea. In particular, I like the idea about solar panels and bicycles-both of which could decrease dependence on foreign oil. I am curious to know how a social business would be funded. . . would it be similar to the way non-profits are funded? And what body of law would apply?

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