Do you know you want to leave your mark but haven’t started because you can’t see how you as one person can do something big enough to make an impact? Well, you don’t have to be ready to solve world hunger or end violence in the middle east to start something meaningful. Making a difference in one little corner of the universe can lead to a bigger movement or at least a greater awareness.
When I was in my early twenties, I had a BIG creative dream. It was the peace, love and groovy post-Viet Nam days when we were all idealistic and knew we wanted to create a better world. (note-some of us still believe we can.) I wanted to start a movement that made the arts the framework for learning beginning in preschool years.
A long detour took me out of the way of that dream but in the course of making a living, I realized I was able to make a difference. No, I wasn’t changing the way children are exposed to and inspired by the arts but my businesses did change lives and YOURS can too.
Typically a social enterprise is based on using business principals to achieve social goals and when someone comes to me for advise on how to create a meaningful livelihood, we look at the cause or change they want to make and then create a business to drive that change. Sometimes, though, an established business can be the vehicle to make a difference.
I didn’t get into advertising to change the world and I sure didn’t start a furniture business to create jobs or improve lives and at one point I felt like all I was doing was making money. I was visiting my dad in Florida and mentioned that I was feeling greedy and unfulfilled that I’d drifted so far from my earlier vision of making an impact. He pointed out all the ways that my partner and I were improving lives. I realized he was right. We weren’t just selling home furnishings. We had created something that fed over one hundred employees and their families and unlike charity, we had trained them to be self-sufficient. (We didn’t want sales people who had been poorly trained in other retail positions so we hired people who had never held sales or management experience and taught them our way. Many of these employees previously held minimum wage jobs and were now earning high five and some six figures.) We’d also found small cottage industry upholsterers working out of their garages or barns and helped them build up their businesses and create jobs in their communities.
When I was a massage therapist, I had mostly private clientele but after doing some volunteer bodywork at hospice, I realized how important it was to give patients and their families the gift of touch. I couldn’t afford to strictly volunteer but wrote an article about the benefits of massage for a local senior publication and people started hiring me to go into nursing homes and massage their aging parents.
While the above are examples of how an established business can develop a social mission, you can start a business with the intention of making a profit and make conscious efforts from the beginning to drive or support a cause. The initial purpose of my gallery was to make a living and re-immerse myself in world of art but as I researched the work I would carry, another mission emerged. I became aware of how much of the merchandise available in most stores is imported knock-offs of artists’ designs. In some cases, the artist has a licensing agreement and gets a royalty but more commonly, the artist doesn’t know about it until it shows up on a shelf with a “made in china” label. Sadly, few of those artists can afford to fight a legal battle with the large companies manufacturing the knock-offs, so they do nothing about the theft of their designs. When I started noticing that even in little artist havens, the majority of shops sell these imported knock-offs, I made it a mission for my gallery to support American artists and educate the public so that they become more aware of their buying habits.
If you have an existing business, you can add a social component to it but even if you have a job, you can start something on the side that makes a difference and has more meaning. If you’re drawn to making a difference with your existing business or on the side if you have a job, I’d love to help you design the vehicle the vehicle to make it happen. GO HERE for more info on Idea Generator Sessions