Recessionpreneur: Why Socially Conscious Startups From Generation Y Are Changing The Entrepreneurial Landscape
Andrea Genevieve Michnik (Austin, TX) —
It’s a common misconception that Gen Y is full of selfish, lost 20-somethings. But while we may not know exactly what we want to do with the rest of our lives, and occasionally claim to be suffering from a Quarter-Life Crisis, I think we appear “selfish” as a result of caring too much about too many issues rather than caring too little. We as Quarter-Lifers are a selfless generation and believe we can change the world more so than our parents or older mentors. Examples of this abound; observe young entrepreneurs like Brent Freeman of Roozt who are launching companies that do more than donate a percentage of sales to a single cause. New entrepreneurs are embracing civic engagement and are helping to change the world.
In 2008, a Wall Street Journal article noted the 21st-century growth in 20-somethings launching entrepreneurial ventures, and dubbed it The Next American Frontier. Young people are looking up to people like Blake Mycoskie of Tom’s Shoes as role models and creating socially responsibly ventures, a concept that didn’t get much attention before the economy crashed. Now that 20-somethings are feeling the pressure to find a career with meaning, some are putting their skills acquired in college to use and creating companies of their own, making a difference in the lives of others. Others are looking for job opportunities at corporations that practice social responsibility. Either way you look at it, social responsibility matters to Gen Y.
Social Responsibility: Fad or the Future?
If given the choice to attend a concert for $20 or attend a series of concerts for $100 with a portion of the funds benefiting a local non-profit organization, which would you choose? If you’re like me and my friends,you’re more likely choose the option that appears most socially beneficial; the choice that helps your community or gives something back to society.
But is this concept a fad? Or is the idea of social responsibility becoming the norm?
Social responsibility isn’t something new,in fact, the term Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR has been a common business term since the late 1960’s. Through the practice of CSR, corporations are urged to develop marketing and public relations plans that encourage community building. Giving back to a cause or community makes businesses look trustworthy, which helps build and maintain a positive reputation. Practicing CSR tells consumers, “We’re a great company and we care about society.”
In this time of economic unrest, consumers hold a sense of shared responsibility to make the world a better place. Previously, companies would use CSR as a brand advantage or unique selling point against competition. Brands like American Apparel or The Body Shop established themselves as different and better because they cared. Now, the majority of large brands are competing for consumers in part through CSR because consumers are demanding more from the brands they do business with.
Making personal and corporate social responsibility sustainable
Gone are the days of short-term, one time, philanthropic gestures. More and more businesses are starting to look toward long-term integration of sustainable social solutions. Both new and old corporations are going back to the basics, determined to position themselves as an organization that has the public’s best interest in mind. Taking a look at social responsibility today we see then that it’s not a fad, but rather a shift.
In a January Harvard Business Review article, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer argue that shared value is transforming the future of business. They write, “Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success.” Huge brands such as Microsoft, WalMart, and GE are paving the way, collaborating with non-profits and bringing business and society to the same level.
On the other side, new emerging businesses are also working to build socially conscious startups. The incubator Tech Ranch, based in Austin, TX has recently started to focus on social responsibility training for startups. Shennandoah Diaz, founder of Brass Knuckles Media, has carved a niche for herself in this space, working to help Tech Ranch startups leverage CSR and build ‘giving back’ into business plans from the start.
“Social responsibility isn’t a fad,” Diaz told me. “People are tired of unethical businesses and our recent economic woes highlight this. They want to buy from businesses who are conscious of their effect on the community and the economy and who value people, both as employees and as customers. People also want to do something that matters while making a good living. Social entrepreneurship gives them the best of both.”
When asked if businesses should consider it essential to include CSR into sustainability plans she added, “Profit is a short-sighted goal, but social consciousness gives an organization a long-term goal to strive for, as well as a worthy cause to inspire and attract employees and customers. It’s the basis for a vibrant culture and infuses purpose into every aspect of the business.”
Gen Y Tastemakers Create Socially Conscious Startups
Doing good for society is a movement. In fact, it may be the defining movement for Gen Y. Here’s a sampling of some of these young entrepreneurs who are changing the world through their entrepreneurship:
- Alan Chan of bre.ad. He’s transforming long URLs into shorter ones while inserting a splash ad in between a user’s click and the landing page. Many of these ads or ‘toasts’ promote charities or causes.
- Michael Karnhanaprakorn of Skillshare. He’s started a global learning revolution where anyone can learn anything from anyone.
- Veronica Eyenga of My Girlfriends House Inc. She’s helping young women connect and build lasting relationships in the Maryland, DC metro area.
- Gianna Drive of Gianna Fair Trade. She’s creating silk scarves and homemade accessories by a network of women living in slums and impoverished villages all over the world.
What do you think?
When you get down to it, social responsibility is not a fad. The concept of working for the best interest of the public will soon become the expected norm and examples from Austin, TX to New York, NY already point to this shift.
If you know someone who living through their quarterlife years and taking action to change the world, let me know! I might feature their story here on Publicyte.
Andrea Genevieve Michnik the founder of BrandKit, a personal branding and career consulting agency for young professionals. She lives in Austin, TX by way of Washington, DC, where she worked for The George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter at @AndreaGenevieve.