5 Social Enterprises with a Global Impact


Massive, multi-national corporations often get a bad rap for being concerned only with their bottom line, but all over the United States and the world, individuals are taking their entrepreneurial spirit and putting it to use with social welfare in mind. These new types of businesses measure success not simply by their ability to make a profit but by how much of a positive impact they have in their communities and around the world.

Here are five social enterprises with a global reach that you need to know:

1. Better World Books

Indiana-based Better World Books (BWB) is an online bookseller with literacy, educational, and environmental concerns at the core of their business plan.

BWB’s inventory comes from donations, book drives, and titles withdrawn from public and academic libraries, ensuring a second life for thousands of books that may otherwise end up in landfills.

BWB donates one book to a child in need for every single book purchased and also donates a portion of their profits to partner literacy organizations, including Books for Africa, Room to Read, National Center for Family Literacy, and Worldfund. Finally, they administer a competitive grant program that awards literacy-focused organizations with the cash to see their projects to fruition.

The company purposefully patronizes the U.S. Postal Service which uses the least energy per package shipped of any other carrier, thereby generating the least amount of carbon in the first place. But customers still have the opportunity to make up for the carbon footprint that is left behind by opting in to pay a few extra cents per order to purchase verified carbon offsets from wind farms in North and South Dakota.

As of November 2012, Better World Books has raised $6.6 million and directly donated over 6 million books for the 80 non-profit organizations they support. They have reused or recycled a total of 127 million pounds of books and re-purposed more than 900,000 pounds of metal book shelving.

2. Mercy Corps

Oregon-based Mercy Corps has been delivering humanitarian aid and disaster relief services since 1979. Today, they are heavily focused on micro-finance, a movement to make banking services and products such as credit, loans, savings, remittance transfers, and micro-insurance available to poor individuals and small businesses.

Mercy Corps’ role is essentially as a “bank of banks.” After buying out a failing Indonesian bank, they turned it into a wholesale-style institution that exclusively serves micro-finance organizations by securing capital, increasing efficiency, and providing financial tools and technologies to help them thrive.

Since its inception, Mercy Corps has disbursed $1.4 billion in loans through its 12 financial service providers with most loans averaging just $1,033. Mercy Corps’ total assets stand at $435 million.

3. Labor Voices

The mission of Labor Voices is two-fold: providing services that benefit both employees and employers. They provide an online forum wherein workers in developing nations can review their employers online in terms of pay, benefits, working conditions, and worker protections.

Because workers in the developing world are more likely to experience abuses such as wage theft, dangerous conditions, or even human trafficking, Labor Voices empowers individuals by acting as a kind of collective “whistleblower” system that’s based on data from multiple sources with first-hand knowledge.

This system of information-sharing helps prevent the propagation of false, biased, or manipulated information about a given place of business, which is something many people have previously fallen victim to.

On the flip side, this data is organized, analyzed, and marketed to companies and third-party inspectors seeking accurate information about the satisfaction, retention, and migration patterns of their supply chains.

4. Nokero

Colorado-based Nokero manufactures high-tech, affordably-priced solar-powered products including indoor and outdoor light bulbs, booklights, cell phone chargers, and rechargeable batteries. Ranging in price from $2-$39, Nokero’s products are marketed to both developed and developing nations.

With 1.3 billion people in the world lacking reliable access to electricity, unhealthy, polluting, or expensive fossil fuels such as kerosene, wood, and animal waste are the only alternative.

Since its founding in 2010, the company has sold more than 500,000 light bulbs and 12,000 chargers in 120 countries, increasing productivity, encouraging energy conservation, and allowing for meaningful time for family and community events in the evenings.

5. Sseko Designs

Headquartered in Oregon, Sseko Designs (“say-ko”) is a sandal manufacturing company founded by 22-year-old Liz Forkin in 2008. While on a trip to Uganda after graduation, she dreamt up a way to help Ugandan women earn and save enough money to afford their college tuition: a social enterprise she calls her “not-just-for-profit business.” Working from prototypes she made with her own shoes, Forkin perfected her skills, located local suppliers, found local labor, and began manufacturing her version of sturdy flip-flops that tie around the ankles with ribbons.

Forkin recruits young women with academic promise to work at the manufacturing facility in Uganda during their nine month gap between high school and college. While the average take home pay is about $60 per month in Uganda, Sseko employees earn $200-$250 monthly. They are required to automatically transfer 50% of their salaries into savings accounts each month to be used only for tuition. At the end of the work program, Sseko matches their savings 100%, ensuring they can attend school at the start of the term.

The first student to attend college after working for Sseko graduated last year.

– Jordan N. Hunt

Source: Businessweek, Fast Company, Oregon Live
Photo: Wonderfully Made Blog


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