Four years ago, when we founded our consulting firm ROI Ventures, we started with a simple premise: make money while also making the world a better place. We wanted to help everyone from entrepreneurs to nonprofits create business models that have social impact and meet the demands of the market.
More and more people entering the business world today don't want "meaning" to be an epilogue to their careers—they want it to define their careers. It's no wonder, as The Economist recently noted, then that the most popular conferences at leading business schools across the globe are ""invariably on social entrepreneurship," including the recent Net Impact conference as well as the upcoming Columbia Black MBA Conference, themed Ethics, Innovation and Ideas in Action.
Corporate Entrepreneurship: Traditional Jobs, Different Mindsets
My partner, Rachel Bellow and I began our careers in the social ventures space nearly two decades ago, before the idea of social entrepreneurship existed. I was CEO of Civitas, a communication and marketing firm for the early childhood field, and also served as VP of national programs at Teach For America. Rachel began her career on the design team for the MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ awards, served as program director at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as a partner with Divine, Inc., a venture capital firm.
Yet, both of us quickly found that our passion had less to do with the specific missions of organizations and more to do with the bigger idea of taking an entrepreneurial approach to social impact.
Back in 1996, Rachel had her own consulting firm while I was directing a company positioned at the intersection of social purpose and consumer markets. We soon began to have daily conversations that revealed similar perspectives on a wide range of issues: the path to social impact, the need for social intention to respond to market demand, the obstacles to innovation in philanthropy, and the importance of design in changing people's behaviors.
More importantly, we had both come to reject the false choice between power, speed, and money on the one hand (the commercial sector) and big ideas, a humanistic perspective, and generosity on the other (the nonprofit sector). We continually asked ourselves: "Why do we have to live on one side or the other? Why can't we have all of those features define our work?"
Social Entrepreneurship: Connecting Passion and Profit
It's too tempting to say that this is how ROI Ventures was born, but the idea to start ROI Ventures did not come until 2005, when I met with two executives at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation who asked me point blank: "What would it take for you to fully pursue your passion for social entrepreneurship? What is it that you are really meant to do?"
On the drive back, I realized that the answer was ROI Ventures. I reached out to Rachel to join me in launching this venture. By establishing a new platform we could do three important things:
1. Expand the application of our experience and knowledge beyond specific cause-areas and across sectors (nonprofit and for-profit);
2. Demonstrate our conviction that one can in fact "make money and do good in the world";
3. Take charge of our professional development, while offering a platform for others to do work they love and find meaningful.
ROI Ventures was launched within months of that meeting.
In the four years since opening our doors, we've been fortunate to work with entrepreneurs, foundations, Nobel Laureates, high growth nonprofits, universities, professional athletes, startups and more. And the company is thriving beyond our wildest expectations, having doubled in size (revenue-wise) every year.
Key Stakeholders: A Diverse Team of Employees
But without human capital, this progress wouldn't have been possible. In order to fulfill our core mission of helping innovative organizations have social impact while fueling their core business, we knew it was important to tap into a broad range of skills and experiences.
To that end, we've built a team that brings expertise in venture capital, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, brand strategy and marketing, television production, finance, and design. We believe that there is no one skill set that unlocks the door to social impact; it requires a range of expertise, and a perspective that unites ideas from the social sector with experience in for-profit models.
Making it Matter (to Markets, to the World, to Ourselves)
At the end of the day, our mission remains to discover and stimulate ideas with the highest potential for social impact, connecting those ideas to markets so that they will matter more.
We are grateful every day that we are able to challenge the notion that social impact is exclusively a charitable, "do-good" pursuit…that it is to be done "after hours" and at the end of one's "real" career. Today, ROI Ventures at the intersection of money and meaning is successfully forwarding new concepts of both social change and business.
--By Suzanne Muchin and Rachel Bellow
Rachel Bellow and Suzanne Muchin are Partners at ROI Ventures, a consulting firm that offers strategic advice to innovative companies, nonprofits, foundations, and entrepreneurs, aimed at maximizing their social impact while fueling their core business. In a series of posts, they will discuss not only some of the trials and tribulations of working in the corporate responsibility field, but also dive into the challenges of being women entrepreneurs, and throw light on how CSR and sustainability are core to their business strategy and partnerships.
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