More and more, leaders at the cutting edge of social change are blurring the lines between “public” and “private” sectors. They believe you can do good and do well – and are proving it’s possible.
I’m Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, and back in 2012 I did something CRAZY.
Or, I did something that most people told me was crazy, but ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. I quit my job as Executive Director of Year Up National Capital Region to build a career in which I could do good AND do well. I left a meaningful and fulling role in search of then uncharted territory. I built a company that combined passion and profit, money and meaning, financial and social impact.
And I’ll tell you – people thought I was nuts. How could you do good (for society) AND do well (financially)? Those two thing seemed INCOMPATIBLE. But, around me the people dedicated to “doing good” often lamented that they didn’t have enough money to support their own families. The people dedicated to “doing well,” spent much of their personal time trying to create a legacy that didn’t feel empty. There were very few examples in which it was possible to do both. But I had spent close to a decade growing Year Up, partnering with companies to place low income youth of color in tech jobs, and seeing those businesses and young people thrive. In my prior role at GE, I’d seen a corporate giant go into developing countries and build infrastructure from the ground up – for the benefit of both GE and the community. And I began encountering so many other inspiring leaders who were pursuing a similar intentionality towards doing well and doing good. I knew I was onto something.
At the same time, a wave of successful businesses was blossoming at the intersection of doing good and doing well. Enter Tom’s Shoes, Honest Tea, Change.Org and the like. While there was still skepticism, these soon-to-be influential social enterprises proved that aligning social and financial impact was both possible AND profitable. Aha! I wasn’t crazy after all. I found myself in the midst of an era where more and more individuals were wired in a way where they didn’t see a choice between doing good AND doing well. They wanted to do both and they did.
My work building a values-driven business eventually led me to Living Cities in 2014, where I’ve led our collective impact portfolio. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve worked with over 70 cross-sector partnerships in cities around the country to change systems to get dramatically better results for low-income people. I know that, for true systems thinkers and doers, the line will blur between for profit, nonprofit, government etc. Some call this the purpose economy, others call it conscious capitalism. The subset I’m personally passionate about, I call values-driven entrepreneurs.
Values-driven entrepreneurs often have an affinity for their cities. They often start by trying to solve problems they see at home, or create change in their own backyards. Cities want to attract more entrepreneurs, period. Look at the effect Starbucks had in Seattle, or Ben and Jerry’s in Burlington, VT. These businesses grew (values or not) to have more than a mere financial impact on their cities. So cities are now innovating to attract entrepreneurs – especially those who can help solve the big, intractable problems of our day.
As values-driven entrepreneurs are more and more a force of change in cities, it is time to take the momentum around social enterprise and change the way the world does business. The next wave of businesses will do well AND do good so the approach is a competitive advantage. As a result, the question at dinner parties will not be “what do you do,” it will be “what problem do you solve.” This seismic shift will necessarily bring new blood (and dollars) to the work of systems change.
In 2013 I wrote a series of blogs that articulate my personal theory for values-driven entrepreneurship. I’m resurrecting the posts (which build on each other and should be read in order) in the next few weeks to unpack and preview some of the work you’ll see coming out of Living Cities in our next round.
- If I Build It: In which I outline the thought process behind my business structure and introduce the concept of values-driven entrepreneurship.
- A Different Kind of Entrepreneur: In which I share my definition of values driven entrepreneurs and why these kinds of business people are transformational.
- What We Can Learn from Bob’s General Store: In which I discuss the need for a capitalist renaissance and a return to a culture of “business commons.”
- Want Your Business to Make Mo’ Money? Start Valuing Values: In which I talk about Values – the glue that holds “do good AND do well” all together.
The next phase of Living Cities’ work, in The Integration Initiative, Collective Impact, City Accelerator etc. will explore how these type of values-driven entrepreneurs and their businesses can inform the work and move the needle toward dramatically better outcomes for low-income people.