CONSCIOUS CAPITALISTS is a new CATALYST series by Ethan Brooks introducing social entrepreneurs who believe for-profit companies are the path to social progress. Ethan is traveling arouund the US and Canada in search of such innovators.
“That’s the most fucked up question I’ve ever been asked,” said the disembodied voice echoing to my headphones through the Skype-o-sphere from the other side of the continent. I was nineteen minutes, and a half dozen technical difficulties into my interview with Taylor Conroy, and things were going great.
Conroy is the founder of Change Heroes, and is among a growing group of innovative disruptors we’ve been investigating over the last few months. Business owners known as Social Entrepreneurs who see potential for companies to be economic engines that drive positive social change.
Change Heroes is a friend-funding platform which gives anyone the tools they need to raise $10,000 and build a school, library, or water well somewhere in the developing world. The system leverages technology and small meaningful numbers to create huge tangible impact in very little time. For example, a typical campaign is designed around one person getting 33 of their friends to donate $3.33 a day for three months. By the end of their campaign, and for no more than the price of a daily cup of coffee, those friends will have raised enough money to build a school and change more than a thousand lives for decades to come.
Put another way, if they were to begin in say, September, they’d have funded an entire school before the end of their fall semester, giving dozens of deserving kids the right to an education and each for less than they’re likely to spend on a textbook or two. They’d also be part of one of the world’s largest education pushes in recent years. A project Change Heroes is calling their Back to School Build a School Campaign.
“Even though you and I are in the part of the world where we’re starting to think about going back to school, 130 million children aren’t. We want to change that so we’re starting with a goal of funding 100 schools in Kenya in September,” says Conroy.
This may seem like an extreme goal, but it’s a perfect example of what sets socially concerned businesses apart from their traditional for-profit and non-profit relatives. Change Heroes is a for-profit business keeping 10% of all funds that roll in through their platform. Because their revenue is wholly dependent on the success of their social mission, the only way they can survive as a company is by funding lots and lots of schools for other people.
“Like if they [for-profits and non-profits] spawned a freakishly good looking child that’s what Change Heroes would be.” Conroy said. The impact of this month long campaign would reach well over a hundred thousand students all over Kenya, and put one hundred schools on the ground in a country smaller than the state of Nevada.
Preposterous, you say? Don’t be so sure. Change Heroes has already raised over $600,000, funding more than 60 schools in just their first round of testing. In less than two years they’ve been able to work out the kinks of the program, and are scaling quickly.
“The site’s now ready to go live,” Conroy said, “If we had ten thousand people log onto the site today, and start campaigns, it would be able to handle it.”
As for the aforementioned “fucked up question”: Will it be able to continue handling it? Is there any legitimacy to the claim that social entrepreneurship is just a fad? Can it possibly be as sustainable as the capitalism we’ve seen until now?
“It’s ridiculous that someone would say [social entrepreneurship] isn’t sustainable even though we’re living in a world that has proven to be unsustainable. Our food supply is not sustainable. Our climate is not sustainable. Our health is not sustainable, it’s deteriorating at a ridiculously fast rate - that’s the definition of unsustainable. It needs massive change, and the thing is whenever massive change happens it’s met with massive opposition. The people that think that it’s unsustainable, or think it’s a fad are people that are grasping onto the old way of doing things.
There’s always tons of ‘em. You can call them leggers, you can call them late adopters, or you can call them people that just have it dead wrong.”
For more on Change Heroes, and to start up your campaign check out their website at http://www.changeheroes.com/
PASSION + PROFIT is an ongoing series of profiles of social entrepreneurs on MISSION.tv. If you are a social entrepreneur and think your venture is worthy, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethan is a traveling writer and entrepreneur. In addition to writing for CATALYST, and SocialFinance.CA he blogs about all sorts of things over at An American Afoot. His recent work focuses on people who are using business to change the world for the better. Always interested in new and fascinating stories, he can be reached via twitter or at email@example.com