There’s no denying the growing social enterprise movement around the world.
And Newfoundland and Labrador is no different. There are a number of organizations and companies throughout the province applying commercial strategies to improve financial, social and environmental well-being.
But in a challenging economic environment like the one in this province, should they exist and can they survive?
Barbara Stegemann believes they thrive more because they’re more authentic.
“I believe social enterprise is stronger in a community that doesn’t have as much because we care more about one another. You get authentic social enterprise rather than ‘buy a $500 pair of sunglasses and I’ll plant one tree,’ which is such a gimmick,” says Stegeman, the luncheon keynote speaker at the St. John’s Board of Trade’s business development summit on Thursday.
“When you have a place that’s truthfully caring about its neighbour and going through challenges, it’s more authentic.”
And Stegemann would know, having built a company called The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc., which sources fair-market organic oils from farmers in troubled countries such as Afghanistan and Haiti to produce perfumes that are sold internationally by retailers such as Sephora and the Bay.
“My farmers, it’s not charity, it’s not even philanthropy. We’re equal. Come to the banquet and we’re going to do this together. To me that’s the most exciting and liberating (thing) and it also builds peace, it ends corruption.”
In building her company from the ground up, Stegemann was able to create a culture of conscience.
But for other companies looking to explore social enterprise opportunities, she doesn’t believe you can “add it like a halo after unless it’s in the DNA” of the company.
She points to Sephora and its accelerate cohort, a program supporting a growing community of female founders in all areas of the beauty industry through a collaborative structure with a focus on social impact, as an example and how company president Calvin McDonald talks about the value of return on love being just as important as return on investment (ROI).
“If it’s only ROI then I don’t think they should bother, but if you actually are looking for the return on love, then you’ll find a way and that’s really the key step.”
Stegemann has great hopes for the future of social enterprise in the hands of millennials. She says that 10 years ago, when she would visit a school or university to speak about social enterprise and ask how many want to change the world or make it better, a few hands would sheepishly be raised.
“Now half the room, their arms shoot up with confidence,” she says.
“Just imagine 10 years from now what the world will look like.”
Between now and then, however, Stegemann is of the mind that more can be done to make the transition to social enterprise easier by making the information and contacts more accessible to entrepreneurs.
“You should be able to work through those offices, they’re there for you, but a lot of people think, I don’t know anybody, I’m not connected.
“No, you knock on that door, you pay taxes and they are there to serve you. We have to be curious as entrepreneurs right now.”