Jim Fruchterman, the CEO and founder of Benetech, and one of the 2003 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in Geneva, Switzerland has an article on News.com called “Throwing down the gauntlet to Silicon Valley.” His premise is that “combining technology with social enterprise provides immense leverage for good.”
He says, “Many technologists would love to work on socially important problems, but this is rare because they don’t have viable models. The best way to bridge this gap is with social enterprise, a technology venture run like a business but structured as a nonprofit with two bottom lines: social and financial. The goal is not to make lots of money, but instead, to deliver the maximum good while operating in a sustainable manner (generally at breakeven). The technology user is treated as a customer–not the recipient of charity–and the enterprise must meet his or her needs or lose revenue.”
And he concludes, “Corporations can cooperate with these social entrepreneurs to go after neglected markets at little marginal cost, and see their products and technology applied to social applications. Foundations need to explore how social enterprise can help their dollars go farther and how to take advantage of the immense leverage technology offers. Ultimately, the only limit on what we can accomplish with technology is our imagination. At a time when the for-profit sector looks grim, it’s important to remember how much good technologists can still contribute to the world.”
He provides a few examples as well. These are important ideas and ones worthy of more discussion and action. My friend Wendy Leibowitz has written on similar notions as they apply in the legal space and a few other ideas can be found at elawyering.org. Definitely something to think about. Spread the word.