We are at the start of a journey. But there is a new breed of entrepreneur who is accelerating the speed of this journey and leading us down an exciting new path for business. When this new generation of social entrepreneurs are compared with their elders such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Ted Turner, we see some key differences.
First, the younger entrepreneurs base their businesses on openness, free distribution and collaboration. Gates, Buffett and Turner and many of the stand-out businessmen of their generation made their fortunes with a closed protected model. Second, these 20th-century entrepreneurs made their money first and then decided to give back. The new generation creates their businesses with a view to giving back from day one.
Now, we should not undermine the significance of what the older entrepreneurs are doing–and with the creation of the Giving Pledge they have founded a potentially world-changing mission, which urges super-wealthy business leaders across America to pledge at least half their fortunes to charity. Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates have put their money where their mouths are. Buffett has pledged to give away 99% of his current $45 billion fortune, and the Gates’ have pledged to donate the ‘vast majority’ of their $54 billion net worth.
But the older generation sees “giving it away” and doing good as their end point, whereas the new generation sees that as their start point. The new generation of social entrepreneurs understands that in the old world you had to be successful in business, and then invariably leave your job, in order to do good as Bill Gates and his super-rich peers have done. (As an aside, I watched a deft response at Davos two years ago from the impressive Gates when he was questioned as to whether the only reason he could do good was that he was “now free from the clutches of the evil Microsoft.” His reply, “I am as good or as bad as I have always been,” was both smart and true.) This new generation believes it is because of their jobs in business that they can do good. And, as I stated earlier, it isn’t just the small business entrepreneurs who believe this: we are at a turning point where many of the heads of the biggest businesses believe it too.
I believe this shift in the sense of responsibility that prevails not only through young entrepreneurs but also in the Millennial generation in general will provide the commitment and impetus that the world needs to make really significant changes for the better.
Today’s best social entrepreneurs differ from conventional entrepreneurs in that they want to create social value and financial value–and it is clear that the new entrepreneurs and big business can learn something from each other.
The new generation needs to bring the professionalism of the business sector into the social-change and not-for-profit sectors, and big business can learn how to operate in the cause-related field with authenticity, creating movements on social media as they do so. For me, the most important point within all this is that all elements–the young, the old, big business and new enterprises–need to be able to do good and make money at the same time, because without this, the business of social change will remain a niche activity.
The revolutionary shifts in social media and social responsibility are driving massive entrepreneurial change. This is true in the corporate world as well, with individuals in organizations adapting and reinventing themselves for the new landscape. I believe that the biggest area of growth will be where social media intersects with social responsibility, and I think we will see new players here that will come to dominate in the future. They will create a new kind of social responsibility, where everyone in the chain contributes and everyone benefit. As Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange calls it, a “collaborative social responsibility.”