Traditional private companies are all about the bottom line. But what if a business could make money while contributing to the common good?
Social entrepreneurs are people who leverage business techniques to solve cultural, environmental and social problems.
To learn more about social entrepreneurship and its positive effects, I spoke with Alex Lahti, Director of Operations at DLG Naturals. DLG Naturals sources cosmetic ingredients from southern African countries while creating jobs for the rural poor.
If you’re curious about the exciting world of social entrepreneurship, read on to learn how Alex created a for-profit business with a non-profit mission.
Alex’s story of social entrepreneurship
Alex’s company, DLG Naturals, sources cosmetic oils and butters from countries in southern Africa. It sells these ingredients to cosmetics companies in America, Europe, Canada, and Japan.
The company relies on wild harvesting across large, uninhabited tracks of land. Alex hires locals to harvest botanicals and work in processing facilities.
Across all the moving parts, Alex ensures that the company upholds high industry standards, fair trade practices, and sustainable agriculture. That way, it works toward its core mission: “To create a rural middle class of producers and healthy lives for all.”
DLG Naturals’ social mission: how the company helps people
Alex seeks to increase employment for people in rural Botswana and nearby countries. Alex says he meets “lots of people who want to advance their life but can’t find a job because the unemployment rate is anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.” With DLG Naturals, he aims to start empowering people to have “income generating opportunities.”
But Alex must balance his social mission with keeping the company afloat; he can’t provide jobs for everyone in need. For social entrepreneurs, Alex says, there’s a tension between maximizing profit and remaining socially conscious. “You can only mitigate but not solve [the tension].” You must focus on improving your corner of the world while still running a successful business.
The golden rule in the social enterprise game people need to understand, is “if you go out of business, you stop helping people.”
Social entrepreneurs must choose the right industry
Alex was strategic in choosing the cosmetics industry to pursue social entrepreneurship. “We deliberately chose the cosmetic industry. Cosmetic customers are increasingly opting to purchase products that directly improve the lives of producers and the well-being of the earth.”
In the cosmetics industry, more and more people are looking for sustainable, organic products. Millennials especially, Alex says, “embody these ideals way more than other generations.” Everyone has a world of information at their fingertips, so companies must be transparent about their standards and practices.
To be successful in social entrepreneurship, you must think both about your social objective and how to capture socially-conscious consumers. Choosing the right industry is paramount. Plus, you need to think strategically about marketing your social concept to the world.
Tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs
Alex is confident that anyone with a strong business concept and social mission can run a successful social enterprise. That is, as long as you keep a growth mindset. He strongly believes you can’t expect to succeed right away, nor can you be afraid of embarrassing yourself. With every failure, you’ll build real skills that will help you improve for the next time.
Alex encourages social entrepreneurs to think about business first and a social mission second. Create a product or service that will sell, he advises, and then ask, “How can I get this to save the world?”
Others start with a social mission and then look for a way to create a business. While this can work, Alex believes “it’s the harder way to go.” To keep your business afloat, you can’t be afraid to market your good work as a selling point. You can improve the lives of others and drive more sales to your business at the same time.
Afraid to start a business? Alex’s advice for pushing past fear
Starting any business is a risky venture, and many of us don’t pursue our dreams out of fear. Alex encourages aspiring entrepreneurs not to let low professional confidence hold them back.
“If you’re afraid, you’re human,” he says. But you shouldn’t mistake your fear for a rational thought process. The number one reason that people end up with regrets, Alex says, is that they are “paralyzed to follow their dreams because of fear.”
He suggests writing down your fear as a way to manage it. By making your concerns tangible, you’ll establish control over your fears. That way, they won’t control you.
Take the first step toward social entrepreneurship
Whenever we start a new professional or educational venture, we have to manage feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. But those feelings usually don’t mean that we should stop and change course.
If you’re interested in this kind of enterprise, you could search for social entrepreneurship jobs in existing companies. Or you could pursue your dreams to start your own social entrepreneurship companies.
By finding a balance on the for-profit and non-profit spectrum, you can build a successful business, create jobs, and improve the lives of those around you.
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