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  • Tania Ellis
  • April 10, 2013
Sustainability in the heart of sales



Are social business and CSR two sides of the same coin? And do you have to be driven by ethics and morality in the pursuit of bridging solutions to social problems with business?

A while ago the originator of micro-loans and founder of the social business company Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, was guest of honour at a conference in Copenhagen, where I was invited to contribute to a panel discussion about the possibilities for social entrepreneurship in Denmark.

The panel discussion was opened with a presentation by the chairman of The Danish Council on CSR and CEO of Novo Nordisk, Lise Kingo, who, among other things, spoke about the necessity of focusing on how we, across sector boundaries, can collaborate on developing solutions to our social problems.

Letting a representative of a multinational company open the panel discussion about social entrepreneurship was to me very symbolic. Because even though it is tempting to glorify social entrepreneurship and social innovators like Yunus, commercial companies still play an important role in the development of socially responsible business.

On the one hand, there are already a great deal of business people, who have realized the opportunity for earning money by incorporating social responsibility into their business strategies. They call it corporate social responsibility (CSR). On the other hand, humanists have also recognized that the use of market methods give them the opportunity to create even more social value. They call themselves social entrepreneurs or social businesses.


Both social entrepreneurs and commercial companies have the opportunity to create social value, regardless of what their motives and primary goal may be.

But when it comes to credibility and integrity, this is where purpose and motives play a significant role ­ this is what gives companies their ³licence to operate². It also closely linked to social innovation and persistence.

Because while many commercial companies usually operate under demands of creating short-term financial returns, the social entrepreneur works with a much more long-term goal, and is willing to go much further before financial results are achieved.

In my own company, it is our experience that many social entrepreneurs often struggle with incorporating business into the core of their social innovation and with scaling their social business models. The commercial companies, on the other hand, struggle with putting social responsibility into the core of their business and into the heart of their organisation, enabling them to shift from CSR to CSI (corporate social innovation).


An obvious opportunity for both parties is to enter into a so-called shared value partnership, which is also the reason why we have created a development programme to help both camps achieve success with their respective missions ­ no matter whether they are working to make more money or to make the world into a better place.

Cynics may argue that the reason why commercial companies may want to enter into these kinds of shared value partnerships is because of risk management or a profit motive. – And so what? To me, it’s key to focus on the ultimate effect of their actions, rather than on what drives them.

As Dalai Lama has allegedly once said ­ freely quoted ­ it is better to give with an impure heart rather than not giving at all, and then maybe the pure heart might come along the way.


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