If only Robin Hood had an Entrepreneurial Spirit

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An article in The Washington Post this morning caught my eye. Normally, I’d have skipped right over anything with the words “ Fashion Designer” in the title, particularly when it refers to a gown worn for the Grammy’s, Oscars. or the Emmy Awards. It’s obvious to those who know me that comfort trumps fashion for me and I don’t watch the Awards or read People Magazine. I’ve always been disgusted by the waste of thousands of dollars and yards of material put into a custom designed dress that is worn once. (It would be interesting to know what happens to those gowns after the ceremonies. I would like to believe they are donated to film or stage wardrobes for reuse. Something I will have to research, but if you know, please share.)

So, what about this article grabbed my interest? When Kevin Streete met Grammy nominee Carolym Malachi at a barber shop, she asked him to design her dress for the ceremonies.  A new young designer of custom gowns Streete has taken a seemingly frivolous practice and created a luxury line built around social value creation. Initially, this seems like a contradiction but it makes social sense. After the 2010 earthquake, Streete went to Haiti to help with medical relief. When he realized that the Haitian people want jobs, not just handouts, he found a group of couture seamstresses and offered competitive pay to help them become entrepreneurs on their own. His goal is to make sure that anyone who has a part in making one of his dresses is treated fairly, eventually even knowing the fabric he sources can be traced back to a farm where the people are treated fairly, not just the workers in the factory or the seamstresses in Haiti.

Oliver Schlake, Tyser Teaching Fellow at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, summed up Streete’s new venture. “Entrepreneurship is the most social thing you can do — giving people jobs and the possibility to create their own social ventures.”

When the clients I work with say they want to start a business that makes a difference and improves lives, they immediately think of the underprivileged, and they can’t imagine how they can make a living by helping people who have no money to pay them. As we start looking at ways they can drive a cause they believe in, we need to be creative about the income aspect.  Remember Robin Hood? Well, I don’t condone “robbing the rich to give to the poor”  we’re not helping people for the long term if we provide for them without teaching them how to take care of themselves. That’s like going into Sherwood forest and giving the squirrels nuts. Eventually, they won’t know how to climb trees to fend for themselves. So, rather than soliciting donations from the wealthy, why not find something they are spending money on anyway and create a business to supply their luxuries through an endeavor that is teaching the poor to maintain a sustainable livelihood?

If you’re searching for more meaning in your business and your life, ask yourself, “What other products or services do the wealthy consume that you can teach the needy to supply that will provide the poor with a sustainable livelihood and the elite a sense of doing social good?” Your comments below are always welcome and appreciated. We can all brainstorm ideas for you to make a great living and a difference.

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