September 4, 2017
Viewpoint

Be a social business

Dr. Debra Pallatto-Fontaine

Social problems, across the street and around the globe, become more pressing and widespread as our world grows larger with a projection of more than 9 billion inhabitants by 2050, and Worcester is experiencing this type of impact as its population increases.

Businesses can lead the charge for improving the quality of life and economic opportunities in this great city. Indeed, businesses can help solve Worcester's social issues while still maintaining profits by adopting the concept known as social business.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus championed the concept of social business and officially sanctioned the first-ever Yunus Social Business Centre in the U.S. at Becker College in 2015. We adopted Yunus' definition of social business as a financially sustainable organization solving social problems in the community or in the world at large. Original investments may be returned to the company, but all profits are re-invested to further social dividends and to create new value.

Businesses already conduct social-minded activities such as philanthropic donations, typically known as corporate social responsibility. By aligning business principles with social objectives, businesses can reap myriad rewards for their own organizations and for the greater good of Worcester. Using their skills, resources and networking to address a social problem impacting their stakeholders to create results lasting well beyond the initial investment.

Firms should engage in social business for four reasons:

1. To increase reputational value and trust. Companies can elevate their positive reputation as a responsible firms.

2. To impact economic performance. Businesses can create new product lines and services supporting social issues, drive sales and expand market share.

3. To elevate employee morale and engagement. To attract and retain top talent, companies can showcase their social values by engaging employees to support chosen social issues. By living the brand's values, employees can feel an increased sense of loyalty and pride.

4. To improve the quality of life and community development, uplifting those most in need in Worcester.

Worcester business leaders can conduct social business in a number of ways, including:

• Level the financial playing field. Banks can offer low interest or interest-free loans for groups of entrepreneurs.

• Donate intellectual capital. Employees can volunteer as pro-bono consultants for nonprofits.

• Solve food insecurity and poverty. Restaurants can offer free culinary arts training to unemployed persons with the potential for full-time employment, while teaching them how to provide healthy meals to their families.

By applying business principles to social problems, businesses can still increase an organization's efficiency, effectiveness and financial sustainability.

Pallatto-Fontaine is the executive director for global initiatives for the Yunus Social Business Centre at Becker College. Reach her at debra.pallatto-fontaine@becker.edu.

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