Social Entrepreneurship : Ben Cohen's View

When it comes to giving advice on social entrepreneurship, there may be no better source than Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry

Two childhood friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, turned a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making into a successful business that shares its rewards with its employees and with the community, and has fun doing it!

Building their startup in Burlington, Vermont, they turned Ben & Jerry’s Homemade into an American cultural institution and made it such a successful company that it was acquired a few years ago by the global consumer-goods powerhouse, Unilever.

Part of Ben and Jerry’s deal with Unilever was to make sure the company stayed true to its roots in social entrepreneurship, which have boosted causes from global warming to small-scale family farms.

“Business has a responsibility to the environment and should uphold a set of aspirational principles,” the company’s mission statement still reads. “Whether it's in sourcing ingredients, supporting non-profit organizations, or using our ice cream to help better the environment, we think it's important to lead with our values.”

Social entrepreneurship manifesto

Cohen and Mal Warwick, another social entrepreneur with an impressive track record, help others follow in their footsteps in their new book, Values-Driven Business: How to Change the World, Make Money and Have Fun. They start out by asking some of the big questions that might dog any social entrepreneur.

“If you run your business in accord with your personal values, will you make money?” they write, “Or will you simply drive yourself into bankruptcy in a self-indulgent attempt to do right by everyone in sight?”

The answers are “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, say these authors.

And even if you didn’t start your company with a social conscience, Cohen and Warwick argue, it’s easy to end up with one. Sit down on your own or with employees; ponder your desire to move the business in a socially responsible direction; then put down on paper what you’ve come up with.

The authors say that you should make three written declarations: a vision statement, about the “noble cause” that will bring new meaning to your work; a mission statement, detailing ways to realize your vision; and a values statement, identifying the core values that infuse the company.

Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick's “five fundamental premises” for succeeding at social entrepreneurship

  1. Attract consumers by demonstrating a commitment to your community and the environment.
  2. Make your business “sustainable” by lightening your “footprint” on the environment and building strong relationships with customers, employees, suppliers and the community.
  3. Make your dedication to quality products and services obvious, and customers will reward you for it.
  4. Look at your constituencies as partners rather than adversaries, for a less stressful and more fulfilling life.
  5. Treat employees with respect and compensate them well, even relative to your own compensation, and include a share of profits.

Our Bottom Line

Ben and Jerry faced many scoffers when they started their tiny company, but they built an enterprise that became known as much for its successful social entrepreneurship as for its ice cream. The new book co-authored by Ben offers plenty of lessons for how you can succeed on many levels as a social entrepreneur.

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