Social entrepreneurship is not a business model for everybody. It is one that a few are interested in, and buy into. It therefore qualifies to be tagged a niche model; it is sweet and beautiful. We believe it deserves a special focus and we are therefore giving it a special focus this week. Blake Mycoskie, CEO, TOMS Shoes
Blake Mycoskie is an entrepreneur from Texas, USA, whose company designs and sells lightweight shoes and donates a new pair to a child in need for every pair sold. His story came up at the Global Entrepreneurs Week held in Lagos few years back, courtesy of the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Pan African University.
A documentary film featuring Blake Mycoskie and his niche business idea was shown to a selected audience of entrepreneurs at the event. His story was so captivating that as soon as the tape stopped rolling, a shirt manufacturer in the audience announced he would adopt the strategy. He won the applause of the colourful cream of urbane entrepreneurs that have become the trademark of this Nigeria’s pacesetting business education academia.
TOMS Shoes, Blake Mycoskie’s company, founded in 2006, is based in Santa Monica, California. The company also operates a for-profit subsidiary, Friends of TOMS.
Alpargata Shoes, the inspiration for the classic style of TOMS, are said to have been worn by Argentina farmers for hundreds of years. These canvas or cotton fabric shoes are now manufactured in many styles and the company’s name TOMS is derived from the word ‘tomorrow’ and evolved from the original concept, “Shoes for Tomorrow Project.” The sole is made of rubber. TOMS is currently in shoe business manufacturing in Argentina, China and Ethiopia.
It all started after his visit to Argentina in 2006. In Argentina, he saw that children without shoes were not only exposed to health risks but also were not allowed to go to school. The disease that they are exposed to is called podoconiosis, a debilitating and disfiguring disease. Podoconiosis, according to experts, is a fungus that gets into the pores on the bottom of the feet and eventually destroys the lymphatic system. It is a soil-transmitted disease caused by walking in silica-rich soil. It causes one’s feet to swell along with many other health implications.
According to the TOMS Shoes website, there are over 1 billion people at risk for soil-transmitted diseases around the world, and shoes can help prevent it. Mycoskie emphasises that his company’s goal is to not only give shoes, but to also educate others on the importance of shoes.
If you are looking for individuals with creative answers to society’s most pressing social problems, you will find the solution in social entrepreneurs. These are ambitious and persistent beings that tackle major social issues and offer new ideas for wide-scale change. They would not leave societal needs to the government and strictly for-profit business sectors. Social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire society to take new leaps. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision.
Leading social entrepreneurs
Examples of leading social entrepreneurs include Susan B. Anthony, a US citizen who fought for Women’s Rights in the US, including the right to control property and helped spearhead adoption of the 19th amendment; Vinoba Bhave (Indian), founder and leader of the Land Gift Movement, he caused the redistribution of more than 7,000,000 acres of land to aid India’s untouchables and landless; Mary Montessori (Italian), developed the Montessori approach to early childhood education; Florence Nightingale (British), founder of modern nursing, she established the first school for nurses and fought to improve hospital conditions and some others.
Isaac Durojaiye, aka Otunba Gaddafi & Co
And of course, we have, among many others, our own Isaac Durojaiye, aka Otunba Gaddafi (who is now late) of the ‘shit business is good business’ fame, a BusinesssDay/Schwap Foundation Award winner who featured on this page before, and Cosmo Okoli, who has given his life and resources to secure succour for persons with mobility challenge.
Blake Mycoskie is one of these entrepreneurs endowed with passion to change society.
Reports have it that over one billion pairs of shoes have been given to children under the ‘One for One’ movement since TOMS launched in 2006. The canvas shoes have been given to children in the US (Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Florida), Argentina, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Haiti, and South Africa. TOMS are sold at more than 500 stores in the US and internationally, including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Whole Foods, which features styles made from recycled materials.
In January 2009, TOMS collaborated with Element Skateboards to create a line of TOMS Shoes, skate decks and long-boards. For each pair of TOMS Element shoes and/or skateboard bought, one of the same was given to children at the Indigo Skate camp in the village Isithumba in Durban, South Africa. Mycoskie is hoping to expand the ‘One for One’ model into other areas like housing, water and schoolbooks. Mycoskie would like to create partnerships with companies so his customers can buy what they need, while the same things are given to those who need them across the globe.
This of course is a business opportunity for Nigerians who have passion for social entrepreneurship.
+Yunus Mohammad and social business
Microfinance banking icon and Nobel Laureate, Yunus Mohammad called on Nigerian business chieftains during a visit to Nigeria, to embrace social business. “You can do it. It is not right to think profit only. You can do non-for-profit business and be concerned only with recouping your capital; this is the way to give back to society, to lift the poor out of poverty,” he told the robust collection of bankers and business people that filled the MUSON Centre Shell Hall for First Bank plc’s International Conference on Micro financing, where he was guest speaker.
He argued that many of the problems in the world today including poverty, persist because of a too narrow interpretation of capitalism. Capitalism, he argued, centres around the free market. “It is claimed that the freer the market, the better is the result of capitalism in solving the questions of what, how and for whom. It is also claimed that the individual search for personal gains brings collective optimal result.”
Yunus noted that the theory of capitalism assumes that entrepreneurs are one dimensional human beings, who are dedicated to one mission in their business lives - maximise profit. He argued this interpretation of capitalism insulates the entrepreneurs from all political, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental dimensions of their lives. “Many of these world’s problems exist because of this restriction on the players of free market,” he said.
Doing things the opposite way
Yunus, who is an advocate of doing things the opposite way - said much at the First Bank microfinance conference - argued: “I have said that capitalism is a half-told story. By defining ‘entrepreneur in a broader way we can change the character of capitalism radically and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market. Let us suppose an entrepreneur, instead of having a single source of motivation (such as maximising profit), now has two sources of motivation, which are mutually exclusive, but equally compelling - (a) maximisation of profit and (b) doing good to people and the world.”
Yunus told the Nigerian business chieftains in attendance that social business would be a new kind of business introduced in the marketplace with the objective of making a difference to the world.
How? Investors in the social business could get back their investment money, but will not take any dividend from the company. Profit would be ploughed back into the company to expand its outreach and improve the quality of its product or service. A social business will be a non-loss, non-dividend company.
Yunus was so passionate about social business that his rendition on it was apparently convincing and it kept the august audience in rapt attention. “Once social business is recognised in law” he continued, “many existing companies will come forward to create social business in addition to their foundation activities.
Kristen Bound and Ian Thornton report titled ‘Our Frugal Future: Lessons from India’s innovation system’ is one we must look at also here on this issue of social entrepreneurship. The report sets out to explore the policies, institutions and industries that are driving research and innovation in India. It also measures how India’s research strengths are developing and to map how the geography of Indian research and innovation is changing.
It takes a purposefully broad approach, aiming to chart the direction of travel for Indian research and innovation. All this is with a view to help UK policymakers, businesses and universities better understand the opportunities and challenges of engaging with Indian research and innovation and how to strengthen their efforts to collaborate.
According to Kristen Bound and Ian Thornton, “Frugal innovation is distinctive in its means and its ends. Frugal innovation responds to limitations in resources, whether financial, material or institutional, and using a range of methods, turns these constraints into an advantage. Through minimising the use of resources in development, production and delivery, or by leveraging them in new ways, frugal innovation results in dramatically lower–cost products and services. Successful frugal innovations are not only low cost, but outperform the alternative, and can be made available at large scale. Often, but not always, frugal innovations have an explicitly social mission.”
They cited the following examples of frugal innovation that are found throughout the Indian system: Devi Shetty’s path–breaking model of delivering affordable heart surgery, to efforts to crowd source drug discovery driven by government labs, Bharti Airtel’s approach to cutting the cost of mobile phone calls, Keralan approach to palliative care which is providing access to support at the end of life for thousands in a void of formal healthcare.