Social entrepreneurship is on the rise across America. Purpose-driven startups that aim to solve the world’s social and environmental problems through revenue-generating enterprises are championing innovative solutions more than ever before, coast to coast.
“It is really a growing trend for … entrepreneurs to say, ‘Hey, I also want to have social impact,’” said Sean Greene, of the Case Foundation. The former entrepreneur says this is, in large part, because many individuals desire to make a positive impact on their communities through for-profit businesses, seeking to “be the change” they want to see in the world while also earning a living.
To begin to make that change, there are certain steps any aspiring social entrepreneur would be wise to follow. The first is to dream big. This means carefully plotting out practical, actionable entrepreneurial goals, then mapping out a clear path to achieving them.
While being thoroughly prepared is essential, so is being inspired to greatness by the successful social entrepreneurs of the past and present. TED Talks, popular video speeches featuring inspirational speakers imparting a variety of “ideas worth sharing,” offer a wealth of inspiration for people seeking to change the world for the better through profitable, purpose-driven enterprise.
If that’s you and you’re taking your first steps on this admirable journey, please read on.
To help your on your way to doing well by doing good — and to save you time searching through TED’s library of thousands of videos — we’ve put together a quick roundup of five moving TED Talks about solving some of the world’s biggest challenges through innovative business solutions. Our list is complete with the top takeaways from each talk.
Happy streaming and we wish you all the best in changing the world through business.
1. The Case For Letting Business Solve Social Problems by Michael Porter
Business strategist Michael Porter, a veteran Harvard Business School professor, makes his compelling case for more for-profit enterprises enlisting their resources to solve global problems, such as poor nutrition, food insecurity and lack of access to water — instead of leaving the tall task to governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits alone. “Why?” Porter asks. The answer is simple: “Because when business solves a problem, it makes a profit — which lets that solution grow.”
“Profit is that small difference between the price and the cost it takes to produce whatever solution business has created to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. But that profit is the magic. Why? Because that profit allows whatever solution we’ve created to be infinitely scalable. Because if we can make a profit, we can do it for 10, 100, a million, 100 million, a billion. The solution becomes self-sustaining. That’s what business does when it makes a profit.”
2. Profit’s Not Always the Point by Harish Manwani
This speech, passionately delivered by Harish Manwani, the COO of global consumer goods company Unilever, serves as a clarion call to look beyond boosting the bottom line alone. Rather, he urges companies big and small to set their sights on being “at the forefront social change” through broadly scalable business models. Manwani urges businesspeople to deeply weave social purpose and environmental sustainability into their business decisions, not just because it’s smart business, but also because companies “have to play our part in the communities in which we operate.”
“It’s not about selling soap, it’s about making sure that in the process of doing so you can change people’s lives. Small actions, big difference.”
3. The $80 Prosthetic Knee That’s Changing Lives by Krista Donaldson
Krista Donaldson, engineer and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech startup D-Rev, discusses in detail the remarkable development, marketing and scaling of the ReMotion Knee. The low-cost, high-performance prosthetic device for above-knee amputees is largely targeted at disadvantaged populations. The former Stanford University lecturer and former U.S. State Department Iraq Economic Officer explains how the latest assistive technology often only benefits those who can afford it. Through D-Rev’s innovative offerings, she aims to change that all-too-common reality through centralized manufacturing, as well as an affordable $80-per-prosthetic price point with built-in profit margins and economic sustainability for the long haul.
“We really, truly believe that if a product is going to reach users at the scale that it’s needed, it needs to be market-driven, and market-driven means that products are sold. They’re not donated. They’re not heavily subsidized. Our product needs to be designed to offer value to the end user. It also has to be designed to be very affordable. But a product that is valued by a customer is used by a customer, and use is what creates impact.”
4. How I Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
When William Kamkwamba was 14, he built his own windmill to provide electricity to his family. Piece by piece, while suffering from extreme poverty and famine in the Southeast African country of Malawi — and in the face of others saying he was “crazy” to attempt such a feat — he handcrafted the rudimentary yet transformative device from a tractor fan, PVC pipes, a bike frame and other found parts. The ambitious young engineer and inventor went on to create many more unique and marketable inventions, most all designed with the overarching social mission of helping people in need. Some of the social entrepreneur’s subsequent inventions have assisted people in accessing clean water, preventing the spread of malaria and much more.
“I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields. It was the future I couldn’t accept … I say to you, trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don’t give up.”
5. Changing the World Through Social Entrepreneurship by Willemijn Verloop
In her rousing speech, Dutch activist Willemijn Verloop urges her listeners to be brave enough to build purpose-driven enterprises that address worldwide suffering and poverty. She describes the ways in which social entrepreneurship differs from more traditional entrepreneurship, and from charity work, along with the ways in which purpose-driven entrepreneurialism, “a thriving, new sector,” can lead to lasting, positive change at the local and global level. “We urgently need new solutions to fight poverty,” she says. “Social entrepreneurs choose to see opportunities instead of intangible problems,” urges Verloop, who founded War Child, a British NGO that assists children impacted by war.
“These social entrepreneurs, whether they want to change locally or nationally or internationally, they’re not professors in social impact or all business school graduates. They’re people like you and me. They’re people who are frustrated at what they see in their direct environment and they want to make a change.”