Examples of Social Entrepreneurship

We feel that there is no fundamental incompatibility between social activist and capitalistic corporate entrepreneurship, despite the tendency to look at organizations in “either/or” terms. Social Entrepreneurs exist in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The two social entrepreneurship models just presented are themselves points along a continuum. What social entrepreneurs have in common, regardless of organizational structure, is that they are change agents. A social entrepreneur is a person with a set of social goals and objectives who operationalized those objectives through entrepreneurial activities (Dees, 1998, 2001), According to Dees, social entrepreneurship involves creating and pursuing social value, continually innovating and adapting, while maintaining a strong sense of accountability to the organization’s multiple stakeholders. Brinckerhoff (2000) also emphasizes their willingness to take “reasonable risk” to accomplish their mission. Except for Dees, however, the literature deals with the social entrepreneur as a not for profit phenomenon.

This paper explores the continuum of social entrepreneurship through case studies of both corporate and nonprofit social entrepreneurs, using the definition developed by Dees (1998). Our cases are the following:

-- Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc.

-- Stonyfield Farms, Inc.

-- Seacoast Science Center, Inc.

-- Sustainable Harvest International

-- Habitat for Humanity International

Of these, the first two are examples of the “corporate social entrepreneurship model”, while the last three are examples of the “nonprofit social entrepreneurship model.” All data and quotes are from the organizations’ websites.

Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. is a for-profit business embodying the founders’ social values. The company makes ice cream, lowfat ice cream, frozen yogurt, & novelty items. Its original concept was: “innovative flavors made from fresh Vermont milk & cream.” The company’s current self-stated concept is that it is: “dedicated to the creation & demonstration of a new corporate concept of linked prosperity. Our mission consists of 3 interrelated parts: Product – quality, innovative, Vermont dairy; Economic – sound financial basis for shareholders & employees; Social: to recognize “the central role that business plays in the structure of society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life of a broad community – local, national, and international.”

Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started their business on $12,000 (of which $4,000 was borrowed) in 1978. They started in a renovated former gas station and developed innovative flavors which were distributed thorough their own ice cream “scoop shops.” As the company grew, the scoop shops were franchised.

The company’s current strategy is to manufacture and distribute ice cream, lowfat ice cream, frozen yogurt, & novelty items through nationwide (and some international) outlets including franchised scoop shops, supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants & other venues. Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Inc. was a publicly traded corporation before being acquired by Unilever in 2000.

Its social mission is carried out in several ways. In addition to buying from small independent producers where possible, the company donates 7.5% of pre-tax earnings to the Ben &Jerry’s Foundation, and through Employee Community Action Teams, and grants made by the corporate Director of Social Mission Development.

Stonyfield Farm, Inc is a for-profit business with a social mission, as stated in its current goal: “To produce the best tasting, healthiest products possible, and to try to do some good in the world while we’re at it.” Stonyfield’s business is making and distributing natural & organic dairy products. Its original concept was as “a project to revitalize the struggling New England dairy industry and support family farms.” The company was founded in 1983 by Samuel Kaymen, an early authority on organic & biodynamic agriculture, and Gary Hirshberg, an environmental activist, windmill maker, author, and entrepreneur. In the early days, the founders did literally “everything from milk the cows to finance the business to sales calls and product delivery.”

The company’s current strategy is to produce “all natural and Certified Organic Refrigerated Yogurts, Certified Organic Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt, and Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt.” Its products are distributed nationwide through supermarkets and natural foods stores. The company is privately held, with widespread employee stock ownership. Employees also have access to company financial records, and participate in selecting their own benefits.

Stonyfield’s social mission is carried out through a variety of means. The company donates ten percent of its profits to “efforts that help protect and restore the earth.” Internally, it has redesigned processes and packaging to reduce waste and energy use, and was the first U.S. manufacturer to offset 100% of its CO2 emissions through investment in greenhouse gas reduction projects. Every yogurt lid has an environmental message and actions that can be taken to help promote a “healthy planet,” and the company engages in many other educational activities, particularly targeting children.

Focus on Business Ethics

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