One who is willing to take risks in an effort to solve community-based problems and affect positive societal change. This is the definition of a social entrepreneur. While it is common to think of a mission-based organization as being a non-profit entity, in today’s society, many for-profit businesses are seeking to create change while maintaining a strong bottom line.
In this space, companies such as Patagonia, Toms, and Clif Bar may come to mind. According to B Lab, the organization that certifies companies seeking to balance profit with a purpose, there are currently over 3,200 companies in 71 countries that have been recognized as certified benefit corporations or B-Corps. Though not all hold the B-Corp designation, within West Michigan, there are numerous companies seeking to serve as a social enterprise.
“It’s not uncommon for people to address people, planet, and profit as separate issues, but I can’t help seeing them as a constellation, because they all influence one another. I’m so grateful to have a job that allows me to work with some really exceptional and innovative people who see that connectivity as well. I’m always so inspired by the creative solutions they design to make a change,” says Good For Michigan Program Manager Alice Jasper.
Motivated to make change
One of those people is Janay Brower. Brower earned her degree in public policy and has over a decade of systems change work experience with vulnerable populations — mainly youth and families. This work was specifically focused around social determinants of health, economic considerations, housing, and community development.
Reflecting on this work, Brower says, “I loved it. It was fantastic. What was challenging was that we never really got to the root causes of what was really going on. A lot of what the root cause was, was a lack of access to living-wage jobs [and] an opportunity for people to take care of their own financial needs as a household. When you’re living and working in poverty, it is really difficult to meet all of your basic needs. Typically the resources just aren’t there. Continually seeing people needed economic opportunities, and particularly living wage jobs, was a huge factor in wanting to do something.”
That “something” leads to the creation of Public Thread in June 2016. Combined with her drive to be creative and create items she would want to purchase, Public Thread is focused on “[paying] living wages, being thoughtful about the environment, [and having] a sustainable approach about manufacturing,” Brower says.
Finding creative solutions to on-going problems
“Social entrepreneurs are invaluable to our community because they are willing to assume the risks of charting new waters by changing the way business has typically been done. Their success is what demonstrates to others that impactful, place-based business models not only work but are increasingly outperforming their competitors,” Jasper says.