Being Good is Good Business

by cohort member Flick Harrison

Kevin O’Leary, according to Inc. Magazine, wants you to be evil.  He says the only sure way to business success is to focus on your bottom line, period.  A social mission - like employing at-risk youth, reducing your carbon footprint, or giving back to First Nations communities - would just be a distraction that could sink your business before it gets a chance to thrive.

Let the government, charity or anybody else take care of making the world a better place - you’ve got a fortune to make.  So just don’t worry about it.  Wealth and prosperity will “trickle down” to the community eventually.

Well, some people don’t want to succeed that way.  And what’s more, there’s a strong argument that Kevin O’Leary is full of hot air on this subject, like he is on almost everything else.  Ronald Reagan promised this kind of trickle-down in 1980, and wealth has only trickled up in the time since then - not to mention the damage that’s been done to the planet.

I’ve just started at Groundswell Grassroots Alternatives, a business incubator for social venture startups.  Social ventures are organizations that work in the marketplace just like a regular business, but their mission is more than just making money.  They can be non-profits, like Mountain Equipment Co-Op, or for-profit businesses like Recycling Alternatives; but despite competing in the same capitalist marketplace as, say, Nike or McDonald’s, they’re betting that serving the community is a better strategy, not just for themselves but for all of us.

I came to Groundswell with the idea to create a business that could help people with barriers to media access connect to non-profits and activists, and get them working together to produce media.  I know a lot about media - I’ve worked 20 years as a media artist, educator, and producer.  What I didn’t know was how huge the social venture space is.  Business with positive social impact built into its DNA is, actually, an ideal shared by many, many people.

So far we’ve heard from a woman who created a wholistic cleaning company in Victoria with an inclusive employment strategy; a representative of a branding co-op in Winnipeg; and a grassroots party planner in Vancouver.  What all these people have in common is a starting point for action that ends up generating money for them and their employees, while still focussed on making their world a better place.

My cohort at Groundswell range from people still looking for a way to put their values into practice, to people looking for support and expansion for projects already well underway.  We come from very different backgrounds, but we share a basic set of politics of inclusion, environmentalism, and social progress.  It feels like these are really solid foundations for a strong business network, and I’m confident this Groundswell program will get me off the ground - doing good, not evil.