Social entrepreneurship is on the rise — and it’s no surprise (to us, at least) that women are leading the way.
A recent report by Deloitte, the giant professional services firm, found that 77 percent of all business leaders now rate “citizenship and social impact” a critical or important topic. That’s a sharp change from decades of “greed is good” thinking that previously defined corporate culture.
“Leading a social enterprise is about recognizing that, while businesses must generate a profit and deliver a return to shareholders, they must do so while also improving the lot of workers, customers, and the communities in which we live,” according to Deloitte.
From a startup perspective, a growing number of entrepreneurs are taking up causes they care about and turning them into mission-driven organizations. Anecdotal evidence shows that women in particular are drawn to mission-based initiatives and firms. “Women’s pursuit of social entrepreneurship can be an important engine for the economy, particularly in the United States,” according to a 2017 report by the National Women’s Business Council.
With social entrepreneurship on the rise, we asked three women business leaders to tell us what inspired them to start their mission-driven enterprises.
1. A need to protect life in the country
“Small farms can’t make it without another income these days,” says Leslie Bradford Scott, who began selling homemade bath-and-beauty products from her farmhouse kitchen in Bailieboro, Ontario, to support her farm and restore the property’s barns. Her business, Walton Wood Farms, which now makes $2 million in annual revenue, employs members of the local community. “Our team here, most of them are rural and were underemployed with no opportunities to learn new skills, and learn modern skills,” she says. “They’re learning everything, from marketing to sales to operations.”
[Related: Read our profile on how Leslie Bradford-Scott started Walton Wood Farm]
2. A desire to address gaps in kids’ education
“When my daughter started elementary school, I was stunned at how little math she knew and understood by the end of second grade,” says Angela McIver, who channeled her frustration into an after-school program called Trapezium Math. The Philadelphia program, now in its 10th year, uses fun games to teach math concepts. McIver plans to expand her business to sell take-home materials called Trapezium Math for Home, and she’s also developed a curriculum for teachers called Trapezium Math for Schools. “We create something that builds confidence in children around math and helps them to do math — really hard math — at really young ages,” she says. “That is the thing that’s really exciting.”
3. An interest in solving a global health problem
“I wanted to do something in the engineering field,” says Erin Keaney, a graduate of University of Massachusetts-Lowell, who briefly considered designing toys and automobiles before settling on a more pressing health issue. “There are 54 million amputees worldwide, and 45 million of them lack access to a prosthetic limb.” She founded Nonspec, which is on a mission to make affordable artificial limbs for amputees in developing nations. Her design uses medical-grade plastic rather than metal. Today, some 200 amputees worldwide use Nonspec’s the leg prosthetic — and the company recently won $33,000 through an innovation competition sponsored by Siemens Stiftung. “It was incredible to see the impact that our device could have,” Keaney says. “Just seeing people be able to return to their favorite sport, to do things that they love easier, is really what sticks with me everyday.”