B Corps: Should They Be Taken Seriously?
30 October 2013 at 9:38 am
The challenge that faces social enterprises or ethical businesses here in Australia, especially those being run by younger entrepreneurs is how to be taken seriously says Bec McHenry the Founding Projector at The Projection Room – Australia’s second B Corporation.
You’ve probably been told on more than one occasion not to take life too seriously – sound advice over the punch bowl at the office Christmas party, but not very helpful when you are building or managing a business. In the end, if you don’t take your work seriously, no one will.
In some cases, however, no matter how seriously you take your business, it is hard to get others to do the same. This is a challenge that faces social enterprises or ethical businesses here in Australia, especially those being run by younger entrepreneurs.
First and foremost, regardless of how old you are, starting a social enterprise is not easy. Prioritising purpose and profit simultaneously requires a high level of commitment, and a great deal of trust to exist between you, your colleagues and your clients. You must work hard to maintain the balance between your purpose and your profit because they are intrinsically linked – you can’t have one without the other.
But while it is hard, it is far from impossible. In a recent report, Social Traders estimated that there are up to 20,000 social enterprises operating right now in Australia – a statistic that proves this industry is being taken seriously – very seriously.
These businesses range from small start-ups, to multi-million dollar enterprises. Most importantly, this isn’t a new or temporary fad. In a survey of nearly 400 social enterprises operating in Australia, 62 per cent of them had been around for over 10 years.
There have been recent changes to this landscape, however. Firstly, we are seeing a growing awareness and knowledge of social enterprise in Australia, with courses, workshops and #socent events happening every week.
Secondly, we are seeing an increasing number of new businesses adopting the social enterprise model. This ‘creation’ as opposed to ‘conversion’ is by far the most exciting development, but a third change to recognise is that there are also an increasing number of established businesses converting to social enterprise.
Another interesting development has been the entry of Gen Y into the social enterprise space, and the significant number of young entrepreneurs who have embraced ethical business – it offers an encouraging view for future generations.
However, for these youngsters, there are additional hurdles to overcome to gain the traction they need to have the impact they crave in this space. It is not enough to have passion and a commitment to “change the world” – you must create trust through experience and legitimacy. Scrap that – you must earn trust.
But never fear, this trust can be earned with time (and a lot of hard work of course), but it is safe to say that many young-guns out there will find that answer unsatisfactory – perhaps even slightly offensive.
So what can be done, right now, to be taken seriously in this space?
Firstly – do.
Don’t just talk about it. Go out there and make it happen – do as much as possible with what you have. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words, and producing successful outcomes will make people pay attention and take you seriously.
Secondly – listen.
Hubert H. Humphrey once said that “the right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” Therefore, it is important to value the work of others and learn from those around you – learn to listen to learn.
Thirdly – commit.
Choosing to embrace business as a tool for social change is a commitment, and one that must be taken seriously in itself. Show your commitment by sharing your purpose and your progress at every opportunity. Also explore the potential to align your mission with a formal process or certifying body to give it added legitimacy – such as B Corp Certification.
Briefly, B Corp Certification is what ‘fair trade’ is to coffee – a rigorous accreditation process that recognises businesses for meeting high standards of transparency, accountability and performance.
Powered by B Lab, this certification is at the heart of a global movement to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable economy in our region.
However, this third piece of advice can only be taken seriously itself if the certification in question is taken seriously…
So, why should B Corp Certification be taken seriously?
Firstly – Legislation.
There are incredible legislative opportunities that come with the B Corp Movement. In the United States, legislation has been passed that has formalised the movement behind the Certification into a new corporate entity – a Benefit Corporation. This demonstrates the potential of this movement to formalise and fundamentally impact on the way we do business in Australia. This is no ‘heart foundation tick’ – this is real, systemic change.
Secondly – Recognition.
The B Corp Certification has created a language that helps to communicate and prove the commercial and social value of purpose-driven enterprises. It has helped people all over the world recognise and trade with ethical businesses, whilst also helping those enterprises connect with and share in a community that is championing a better way of doing things. The Certification is now proudly displayed on packaging and websites as a ‘stamp of approval’, helping people make more conscious decisions as consumers or citizens.
Thirdly – Momentum.
There are currently 855 certified B Corporations globally. In quarter three of 2013, 25% of the B Corp community growth came from outside North America – where it all began. Clearly, momentum is building – thanks largely to points one and two.
Excitingly, with this momentum will come the tipping point that every social enterprise fantasises about – this is the day we can drop the ‘social’ and just have ‘enterprise’, because better business is just business.
However, without a structure such as B Corp Certification, the momentum in favour of ‘better business’ would be chaotic and unproductive – energy would be lost, and we’d all trip over before we tipped over. Clearly, the momentum B Corp has already captured, even here in Australia, warrants it to be taken seriously – very seriously.
Ultimately, the time has come to take a serious look at ourselves, and the way we do business. Business is not bad –people do business badly. And if we are serious about changing the world, we need to start doing business better.
About the author: Bec McHenry is Founding Projector at The Projection Room – Australia’s second B Corporation. Now, as Co-Founder of B Lab Australia and New Zealand, she is working with a team to lead the movement to redefine success in business within our region. And with two other social ventures on the go – Policy Booth and PopUnion – she is definitely taking it seriously by starting with ‘B’ in more ways than one.