Last week’s Social Enterprise Dragon’s Den showed that using “business for good” is alive and well. Along with showcasing great ideas, it also highlighted the hardworking, enthusiastic people who make social enterprises possible. This was the reasoning behind the inaugural Social Enterprise Generosity Award, which aimed to recognize the “sweat equity” investments that go into starting up many social enterprises.
In a way, this award recognized everyone who’s lent a helping hand to the success of social enterprises, but one worthy candidate stood out. E. Larry Butler’s dedication to the 2004 start-up, The Cleaning Solution, was duly recognized as he graciously accepted his award. Mr. Butler has spent the last eight years dedicating his time to this contract cleaning social enterprise, which provides working opportunities for those who live with mental illness. He was anecdotally referred to as inspiring and always up for a challenge. Surely many can relate to having worked with someone as engaging.
While the dragons deliberated, a second outstanding person delivered the keynote. Kevin Lynch, the new president and CEO of the Social Enterprise Alliance, took the stage and captivated the audience with an incredibly moving speech. He began by asking the crowd how they were doing. This received the expected response of cheer and applause one might expect. He then again asked the crowd how they were doing, but this time his presentation slide switched to a Chinese worker suffering from a disease because of contaminated drinking water from a nearby chemical plant. His point being that how we’re doing is all relative to how the next person is doing. This, he said, is what drives him every day as he carries out the values of social entrepreneurship.
Mr. Lynch gave a humble account of his early life in advertising, living every moment for money, and his subsequent addiction to alcohol. He said that only when he realized that he had lived a life of privilege did he understand that he had to turn his life around. A sort of second chance, he decided to dedicate his life to helping others through business. Lynch founded Rebuild Resources in 1984 (a t-shirt company) and since then has been working toward helping those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction to get jobs and transition back into the workforce. He made a few humorous jibes at the American jail system, one that apparently prefers to have people in jail than out. According to Lynch, such a system is a moneymaker, and all that he is really doing is taking market share away from this industry.
In the end, Lynch spoke of a fight against the forces that surround “good business.” Having spent much of his time in the advertising world, he highlighted how those who sell in the mass consumer market are diabolically good at selling discontent and that the greed economy is a force to be reckoned with. Economies based on social benefits face an uphill battle, but the power is in the people. In closing, Lynch surveyed the crowd and said that three things were sure to be true of all of us. The first is that you work more than you should. Second, you are not getting paid as much as you could in another field. Third, something inside of you makes you do the above two. Surely this can be true of many people you know, and of course, of yourself. At the end of the day, it all comes down to people.
Julian Harrison is an MBA student at the SFU Beedie School of Business. He is the co-president of his Net Impact chapter, an organization whose goals are to engage a new generation of leaders by putting their careers to good work. His focus is in socially responsible investing, social entrepreneurship and development banking.