Article: To profit or not to profit? Is that the question?



Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Article from the – Leeds-based social entrepreneur Rob Greenland challenges one of the Yunus Centre’s seven principles of social business.

“I’ve been working in social business now for around fifteen years. I started out volunteering for a fairtrade social enterprise in Leeds. Except it didn’t call itself a social enterprise because the term hadn’t yet made it that far up north. We were a not-for-profit, and proud of it.

I remember the pride I felt in telling people that we were not-for-profit. It was shorthand for “we’re the good guys”. Privately I would question the motives of some of the people in the world of fair trade who ran for-profit businesses. How could you possibly make a profit on the backs of poor coffee farmers and hard-up sculptors of soapstone?

Fast-forward to 2011 and I find myself more relaxed about people making money out of social business. Why? Because I think if we are going to tackle the enormous social problems that we face we need more people running social businesses. And, to achieve that scale, we will need a variety of business models – many of which will require investment.

Where will that investment come from? From entrepreneurs themselves – and from investors – both of whom, in many cases, will want some kind of financial return related to the risk that they are taking [...] “

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