Essentially the social justice warriors of capitalism, social entrepreneurs have a seemingly impossible job — strengthening communities and making a difference in sustainable development while also ensuring company viability. The concepts may seem at odds, considering that earning profits is generally the primary function of a business in our capitalist society. Yet social entrepreneurship can function in harmony with traditional business models, to the benefit of society as a whole.
Social entrepreneurs are likely to experience road bumps throughout their journeys toward making the world a better place, but the same could be said for myriad career paths. Primarily, social entrepreneurs may have to overcome the skepticism of their projects’ mission statements, as well as learn to deal with increasingly complex challenges. And since you can’t help everyone, it may be best to identify a single social problem that marginalizes a portion of humanity and work on a small, localized scale to solve that particular issue.
Crumbling Infrastructure is a Global Problem
Local infrastructure reform is an ideal place to start, as many communities lack access to essential services such as clean water and reliable public transportation. When it comes down to it, investing in sustainable infrastructure solutions is also an investment in humanity. Yet infrastructure, while crucial to the quality of life, is costly to build and maintain, and funding is often limited.
In fact, “Traditional means of paying for infrastructure no longer cover the costs of building, operating, and maintaining elements such as roads and wastewater management facilities,” writes the National League of Cities, a U.S. advocacy group. Yet the U.S.’s infrastructure is higher in quality than that of a number of European nations, including Greece, Denmark, Austria, and the Czech Republic. For its part, Italy “has the fourth-worst transport infrastructure among advanced economies,” according to Forbes. Clearly, Italy could use all the help it can get in the realm of social entrepreneurship.
Thus, a sustainable development platform, with infrastructure at its crux, may allow social entrepreneurs and their representative organizations to help the greatest number of people under a single umbrella. Proposed infrastructure projects at a localized level may garner more support if a social entrepreneur is working behind the scenes.
In an increasingly complex business environment, social entrepreneurs are making waves across Europe, and profit to boot. Modern social entrepreneurship is truly becoming a force to be reckoned with in 2020, successfully balancing shareholder needs with social justice.
Sustainability as a Business Model
Unfortunately, “sustainability” has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years, which has undermined both its relevance and the integrity of those promoting a sustainable lifestyle. But that will rarely stop determined professionals, as overcoming adversity is nothing new for social entrepreneurs. In fact, fighting adversity is an integral skill for every successful social entrepreneur, along with creativity and strong public speaking skills. Further, social entrepreneurs must know when to take action and when to stand down, as well as identify business opportunities that may propel their underlying mission.
Working with local infrastructure and communities is also key to long-lasting change and the establishment of a solid circular economy, where sustainability is at the forefront of production, consumption, and quality of life. Fortunately, today’s modern startup landscape provides plenty of opportunities for social entrepreneurs to promote sustainability and transparency at the local level.
For example, the Finnish startup Cuitu addresses our growing global population and scarcity of natural resources by merging both sustainability and fashion in their designs. And the company’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: In 2019, Cuitu received the EIT RawMaterials Circular Economy Award.
Cuitu doesn’t directly address local infrastructure, per se, but they offer full transparency in their supply chain, according to Medium. When consumers are given more knowledge of the origins of everything they consume, from clothing to food and personal vehicles, it may become easier to address sustainability on a large scale.
How We Got Here: Sustainable Infrastructure
No matter the details of a project or proposal, social entrepreneurs measure value proposition from much more than a financial standpoint. Of course, profits are crucial in order to help social entrepreneurs reach their goals, yet these professionals also see a much bigger picture. Through the lens of social entrepreneurship, crumbling infrastructure is viewed with potential and positively rather than looked upon as an inevitable scourge.
As it currently stands, a partnership between social entrepreneurship and local infrastructure is the next logical step in the evolution of sustainability. Over the last few centuries, sustainability has grown from a niche movement to a popular business model practiced around the world.
Consumers, corporations, and governmental entities alike have all jumped on the sustainability bandwagon. For example, the European Commission added green infrastructure to its sustainability strategy in 2013, a move the organization claims will protect natural areas, fuel the economy, and create jobs. The implementation of green infrastructure can be easily seen on a local level, such as the fleet of eco-friendly electric buses that transport commuters in Vienna, Austria.
The True Cost of Climate Change
In the wake of climate change and a human population that’s growing at an accelerated rate, implementing sustainable infrastructure becomes vital. And social entrepreneurs are in the perfect position to help quell the damage humans have already done to our planet. One way that social entrepreneurs can attract sponsors to their cause is by spreading knowledge of the hidden costs of climate change.
Championing sustainability as a solution to climate change is an attractive branding tool in the 21st century. And it’s easy for social entrepreneurs to promote the benefits of sustainable infrastructure when one considers the alternatives: Globally, transportation contributes about 15% of all global emissions, and humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels is detrimental to the health of the planet.
Yet even champions of sustainability may balk at the significant cost of green infrastructure, however. Maintaining sustainable infrastructure is a costly endeavor; by 2030, urban infrastructure is expected to have an annual price tag of €3.7 trillion in Europe alone. Social entrepreneurs should remind potential investors that delivering social value isn’t free, and the emerging circular economy may help offset the costs.
Across the globe, there are countless inroads being made toward sustainable infrastructure solutions by social entrepreneurs. Fortunately, emerging technology is part of the solution, and innovations such as SMART systems that reduce energy consumption may attract eager investors wh