Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Entrepreneurship As A Source of Social Good (As Well As Profit)


Earlier this month I was the moderator at an Oregon Entrepreneur’s Network PubTalk that featured Ben Bohannon, co-founder of the company, Sseko Designsa Portland based footwear and accessory company.

Ben and his wife Liz started the company in 2008, as a “not just for profit” enterprise after Liz visited Uganda earlier in the year. The trip presented Liz with not only a business concept, but more importantly, an opportunity to make a difference through providing employment and scholarship opportunities to women pursuing their dreams and looking to overcome poverty.

As noted on their website,

Sseko provides employment during the 9 month gap between high school and university where high potential young women are able to earn and save enough money to pay for college tuition. 50% of their salary each month goes into a savings account that is not accessible until tuition is due. This ensures that their income goes towards education. At the end of each term, Sseko grants university scholarships that match up to 100% of the savings each woman has made during her 9 month session with Sseko.

So this company is willingly setting aside a good deal of its profits for the benefit of these young women, and yet, is still rapidly gaining market share, appearing on the show “Shark Tank”, and successfully raising venture capital.

What gives here?  The answer is simple — Social good can be very good for business, and investors and consumers alike are getting on board.

Consider this, from a recent AMEX Open Forum piece by Phaedra Hise:

Companies that prioritize a triple bottom line (social, environmental, social) far outperform those that don’t, according to research by Raj Sisodia, a marketing professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and co-author with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey of the bestselling book Conscious Capitalism. Sisodia found that the 10-year return on investment for these firms was a staggering 1,025 percent, compared to a Standard & Poor’s company average of just 122 percent.

It’s also great that Oregonians like Ben & Liz are leading the way, and entirely consistent with the underpinnings of our entrepreneurial ecosystem that thrives on the pursuit of purpose as well as profit.

With that spirit, Built Oregon are proud to be sponsoring an upcoming event on May 19th co-presented by Social Venture Partners Portland (SVP) and PSU Impact Entrepreneurs, called Changemakers Night.  (Disclosure: I’m an investor in SVP)

There, attendees will hear from some of the leaders in the social entrepreneurs movement, including Jeremy Hockenstein, who through his company Digital Divide Data has created an innovative work/study program for disadvantaged youth in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya. Digital Divide Data in turn provides high-quality and competitively priced digital content, data and research services to clients worldwide (a model now called “Impact Sourcing”).

It’s a great opportunity to hear how striving for social good is changing the worldwide business and entrepreneurial landscape, and also right here in Oregon.

For the betterment of all of us.

(Here’s the link to find out more: http://www.socialventurepartners.org/portland/events/changemakers-night/ )

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Terry St. Marie

Terry "Starbucker" St. Marie, when he isn't working with Mitch & Rick on Built Oregon, writes on his own site, TerryStarbucker.com, and is also a business consultant, Director of Finance of PDX retailer/record label Tender Loving Empire, investor in the Oregon Angel Fund, chairman of the board of Social Ventures Portland, and a general man about town (and espresso bars)