You, too, can live the Millennial Dream… with a solid bank account that delivers the “warm and fuzzies”
Kristy O’Leary is quick to make one point very clear: she is not in the game of trying to help non-profits make money. She wants to help profitable companies do good — and make lots of money by doing so.
“If you don’t want to make a lot of money, you’re not our client,” she says. “When you work with us, you’re going beyond profit. Profit is the minimum.”
O’Leary’s three-person start-up, Scout & Burrow, aims to produce profit and social good by making big companies more socially conscious and sustainable.
But can corporate do-gooders actually turn their good deeds into profit?
Scout & Burrow helps its clients construct Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, community engagement plans, and corporate philanthropy strategies. The company can also help its clients seek “B Corporation” status, meaning they meet defined standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Scout & Burrow is itself a B Corp.
Scout & Burrow also helps with PR, to inform customers of a client’s socially minded efforts. Essentially, they identify ways for a client to be more socially-minded, and then help the company promote that fact.
O’Leary insists there’s profit to be made in doing so. She points to a Nielsen survey that found 55 per cent of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies “committed to positive social and environmental impact.”
The result: companies can make millions without feeling guilty.
“I don’t want to talk about social innovation and make people feel warm and fuzzy. I want to talk about social innovation and make people a lot of money,” she says.
O’Leary’s twin goals of profit and social improvement are at the core of what Karina LeBlanc calls the Millennial Dream.
LeBlanc is the executive director of the University of New Brunswick’s Pond-Deshpande Centre, which was created in 2011 thanks to a combined donation of $5 million from Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande (an American billionaire tech entrepreneur) and Gerry Pond, the godfather of New Brunswick’s tech sector.
The Pond-Deshpande Centre is focused on encouraging social entrepreneurship in Atlantic Canada. In fact, LeBlanc wants to turn the region into the Silicon Valley of social entrepreneurship, a place where millennials come to create profitable yet socially-minded businesses.
“Everybody talks about creating the Silicon Valley of the north. It’s such an unreasonable premise,” she says in an interview. “Could we not make Atlantic Canada the Social Venture Valley? …Can we create the most robust ecosystem for inspiring and launching social ventures?”
LeBlanc defines a social venture as a business that is both doing well financially and doing some larger good. “It’s not just having a bunch of non-profits grow in the region. That’s not the model at all,” she adds.
LeBlanc argues there are plenty of reasons why the Millennial Dream concept is well suited to Atlantic Canada: the region is a “living lab of lots of complex social problems,” and it has many universities full of millennials.
She argues that the majority of millennials want (or feel the need) to be job creators, not job seekers; they also desire job fulfillment and want to make a difference.
“They’ve got a different perspective on what they want to see from their futures, and they’re very conscious of wanting to make a difference,” she says. They just need the proper support and resources, which the Pond-Deshpande Centre is trying to provide.
Last year the Centre launched a social enterprise accelerator program called B4 Change, and LeBlanc says a diploma program in social entrepreneurship will be running in September. Though the Frederictonbased Pond-Deshpande Centre is a UNB entity, its programs will be available to students across Atlantic Canada.
David Alston, another of the Millennial Dream organizers, says such efforts are intended to help stem the ongoing and “automatic exit” of young New Brunswickers from the province.
“(This) will start to shift the tide from New Brunswick being the greatest exporter of millennials to, hopefully, the greatest importer of millennials,” says Alston, a former Radian6 worker and the current chief innovation officer at Introhive, a Fredericton- and Washington, D.C.- based tech company.
Alston, who is also one of the region’s biggest advocates for technology education and coding in schools, says the Pond-Deshpande Centre’s push for more social entrepreneurship is part of a growing sentiment in some business circles. He points to a Huffington Post commentary piece penned by Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. “The business of business isn’t just about creating profits for shareholders — it’s also about improving the state of the world and driving stakeholder value,” Benioff wrote in February.
Those connected with the Pond- Deshpande Centre are obviously convinced of the potential of sociallyaware businesses, but can they actually compete with, and even outperform, their profit-obsessed competitors?
In a 2008 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, Pieter van Beurden and Tobias Gossling state there is “clear empirical evidence for a positive correlation between corporate social and financial performance.”
The Ethisphere Institute, which selects what it calls the “World’s Most Ethical Companies”, says that, between 2007 and 2011, its list of ethical companies “significantly outpaced” the S&P 500, by an average of 7.3 per cent.
In 2008, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 566 U.S.-based executives. The survey revealed that companies describing themselves as “proactive” on corporate citizenship were likely to be more profitable and have better revenue growth than their less socially-conscious competitors.
“Many firms view corporate citizenship as little more than public relations, but a minority are beginning to recognise (sic) its potential,” the report authors wrote. “Leading companies have moved from a do-no- harm, reactive mode to a more proactive approach. For more than a decade U.S. firms like DuPont, 3M and SC Johnson have been showing the way, using corporate citizenship as a source of competitive advantage.”
Concluded Justin Fox and Jay W. Lorsch in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article: “There’s a growing body of evidence that the companies that are most successful at maximizing shareholder value over time are those that aim towards goals other than maximizing shareholder value.”
Less than 30 companies (see list) have emerged from the Pond-Deshpande Centre orbit thus far. It’s unclear what level of success they will achieve, and whether they can actually balance their capitalistic and altruistic ambitions.
Kristy O’Leary’s start-up, Scout & Burrow, emerged from the Centre’s B4 Change accelerator last May. “I would not be in business if it had not been for that program,” she says on a sunny Saturday afternoon, just outside her north-end Halifax office.
O’Leary, who studied political science and graduated from NSCAD University before working in advertising, started Scout & Burrow 18 months ago.
Sitting in a leather chair, with sunglasses on her head and her hair pulled back in a ponytail, O’Leary says her goal is to help narrow the chasm between businesses that define themselves strictly as for-profit or nonprofit. She labels the two camps as “pure profit” and “granola.”
Currently, she argues, the dogooders are too often those without a sustainable business model. “Right now it’s a little bit granola for my tastes,” she says. “I believe in profit. Profit is good.”
Scout & Burrow is in its infancy, but O’Leary is gunning to put Fortune 500 companies on its client list. “If you get McDonald’s to change the way they source their products, you just changed agri-business,” she says. “It’s not out of reach,” she insists. “The market is ready.”
She equates old just-for-profit companies to dinosaurs that will shortly die off. From that fall will rise the mammals: companies with triple bottom lines: people, the planet and profit.
As O’Leary sees it, companies have two options: quickly morph or go extinct.