In fall of 2012, I had the opportunity to attend two of Muhammad Yunus’ Social Business Challenges. As a filmmaker who spent the past six years following the work of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus for my documentary Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus, I was thrilled to be able to see his idea of social business, which is a non-loss, non-dividend company whose main goal is to solve a social problem, being germinated among students here in the US. And I have to say, listening to the students’ business plans, I wasn’t disappointed.
Students from a wide variety of disciplines worked together to take on difficult problems facing their communities and find businesses to address their concerns. In North Carolina, I noticed several teams voiced a deep concern for the growing obesity issues and proposed healthy food programs, and in one instance, a bike business to address the problem. Another team, concerned with highly polluting hog waste, came up with a business to take that waste, turn it into fuel and as an added benefit, clean up the water supply. Two of the top threeNorth Carolina teams were focused internationally with a waterless toilet and a funding program for microcredit.
Jumping on a plane to Oregon, I was impressed with the students who were in the Social Innovation program. Three of their companies, which are already up and running, were able to present their work during a lunch plenary. In Oregon, I noticed that the students were more concerned about addressing local problems, especially focused on both sustainability and healthcare. One group concerned with food scarcity created a business plan around an aquaponic dome, which would provide healthy greens and fish for local consumption. Another team thought of mobile health clinics that come to rural areas on a bi-monthly basis to bring care to the people who have a hard time getting to the cities. And the winning team, concerned by growing numbers of autistic kids, had created an after-school sports program called Star Sports to work with this growing population of special needs children.
I was thrilled to see the ingenuity the students brought to both global and local problems. And I left feeling optimistic that the idea of social business and social entrepreneurship, which is starting to grow as social entrepreneurship courses taking hold within our academic system. There are several universities offering degrees in social entrepreneurship and the Social Business Challenge has taken place in 4 states so far. The top three ideas from each Challenge are given seed funding, so hopefully their businesses will take root and prosper. They also want to create a social business fund for each state system, to help these ideas get off the ground. Just image where we will be in just 10 years, as this idea is brought to more states across the land.
Holly Mosher is an award-winning filmmaker who brings socially conscious films to the public. She graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has produced a number of commercials and feature films, including her second directorial project, Bonsai People, which follows the work of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. Her films have received international press attention, and The Hollywood Reporter named her one of the top up-and-coming independent film producers.