Wharton Social Impact Fellow Lynette Ashaba spent a portion of her summer fellowship in the studio with us, tuning in to a live recording of “Dollars and Change,” SiriusXM’s only show devoted to social impact and business. Listeners can hear WSII on the radio every Thursday morning from 8-10 a.m. ET, or streaming online all week.
Here, Lynette shares her takeaways from our recording on July 24, hosted by Sherryl Kuhlman and Sandi Hunt.
It has been hard to express to my curious friends the scope of my work this summer as a fellow at the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. However, when I attended my last taping of “Dollars and Change”, the guests described social impact better than I ever could, by highlighting some of today’s important issues.
Traditionally, non-profit organizations and charities have worked to improve the lives of people around the globe. However, as Arun Prabhakaran, VP & Chief External Affairs Officer for the Urban Affairs Coalition highlighted during the show’s first segment, the non-profit sector is facing significant pressure to change.
For example, there is currently a heavy push to measure effectiveness and efficiency in the non-profit sector that has led non-profits to “starve” themselves in an effort to maintain low overhead costs. This is not efficient. There is also a lot of fragmentation and duplication in the non-profit sector because non-profits are often stifled at the top of the value chain by inefficiencies, which hamper their ability to get the resources they need to scale up.
While non-profits do have commendable goals in mind, Arun highlighted the pressing need for non-profits to shift their mindset from doing charity work to serving consumers and producing products well suited to meet the needs of their consumers.
As a result of many of those inefficiencies and needed changes, social enterprises have emerged out of efforts to match traditional business resources and skills with non-profit sector impact efforts. Dave Spandorfer, Co-Founder and CEO of Janji, a running apparel brand that also provides clean water around the globe, spoke about the need to invest heavily in research and development in order to create an authentic brand and keep consumers satisfied.
Spandorfer and many other social impact entrepreneurs realize the importance of having a sophisticated understanding of their problem and the need to collaborate with partners and build sustainable eco-systems.
At the same time, traditional businesses need to reanalyze their more philanthropic efforts. Kyle Westaway, author of “Profit & Purpose“, Founding Partner of Westaway & Co. and a Lecturer of Law at Harvard Law School spoke about the need to build better businesses that have impact as they grow and also use profits to do good. No longer should businesses make money via questionable means then donate that money to create social change but rather, companies should build more sophisticated systems that allow companies to have meaningful impact along the entire value chain.
NGOs, social enterprises, and traditional for-profit businesses could all benefit from strategic partnerships and collaborations. While speaking about the economy and clusters in big cities, Kim Zeuli, Senior VP and Director of the Research and Advisory Practice at ICIC, Michael Porter’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, affirmed that similar industries consolidated in specific areas (clusters) can benefit from partnerships that take into consideration the comparative advantages of different kinds of businesses within the cluster.
Kim explained that as opposed to clusters built out of nothing, clusters that come about more organically are more likely to be better suited to their environments. Kim also explained that collaboration within businesses in a cluster could lead to greater benefits for all businesses involved.
And that, in my opinion, is a good summary of social impact. Social impact is an attempt to build businesses in a more thoughtful way, which enables companies to positively affect their communities. But social impact is not limited to just social enterprises. By taking a more critical approach to business, traditional businesses too can also become part of this wonderfully complex space.
Lynette is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences trying to decide on a major. When she is not doing that, she can be found working hard in the Wharton Social Impact Initiative office, or going on water breaks (because she decided to drink more water this summer…)