Panelists at Concordia Explore How to Balance Ethics and Profit
Panel on Careers in Social Impact and Entrepreneurship Takes Place at Concordia
More and more entrepreneurs are trying to make their startups the next big thing, with the goal to incorporate social values.
“Doing good in your community, while keeping a sustainable economy for your business,” said founder of Phil Communications and non-profit specialist Kim Fuller, “that’s good for the soul.”
She was one of six panelists that spoke in the Henry F. Hall building at Concordia University about social economy on Nov. 16. Other speakers included Sydney Swaine-Simon, founder of NeuroTechX a neuroethology non-profit organization, and Jessica Newsfield, a sustainable business consultant. Also present were Thérèse Regenstreif, an accounting worker in the aid sector, Jason Dominique, director of Cancer Testicular Canada and Andre Boisvert, director of ZAP, a public Wi-Fi co-op.
While these individuals have varied backgrounds, they all spoke with pragmatic idealism about their entrepreneurial paths that focused on people over profit. They were brought together by District 3, an organization that help individuals create startups, that is in partnership with Concordia University.
Social economy is an association-based economic initiative founded on values of solidarity, autonomy and citizenship. Its primary goal is to serve members of the community rather than accumulating profit, and to use a democratic decision making processes.
The focus is people over capital, and redistribution of profit. All operations are based on the principles of participation, empowerment, and individual and collective accountability.
These entrepreneurs set out with the same idea. “I’m annoyed about this thing, I’m going to fix it,” said Dominique. It is through this thought that they worked to find solutions that can benefit many.
“It’s about seeing potential when nobody else does,” said Regenstreif. She believes there needs to be a middle ground between the profit and non-profit sectors. She disagrees with those who say the charity can’t be sustainable, and believes that charity lives at the interception of purpose and profit.
Regenstreif recalled her path from being a Concordia accounting student to working in an international NGO. “I absolutely hated my accounting job,” Regenstreif said, remembering she always wanted to be part of a bigger conversation.
“In a world where there is no such thing as a guarantee, might as well fall down doing something I enjoy,” said Regenstreif in a cynical tone.
These good intentions don’t come without a fight and these panelists encountered drawbacks. “We face the same issues as regular business but worst,” said Boisvert. These supplementary obstacles, according to the speakers, come from the prejudgments individuals have about socially based organizations. “I’m not perceived as a legitimate business,” said Fuller.
Her company helps charities manage their money better as she says charities usually “get bad advice from the corporate world.” She recalled the picture she had seen of a women that was sleeping on the street in front of one of the shelters Fuller’s company has worked with. Her company, united with the charity, saw the woman resettled in an apartment within two years. “That person is there because we all came together and made that happen,” said Fuller.
The consensus was also that is was hard to get people interested in their projects because they made less of a return on their products. It’s a constant difficulty for them to find new profit, and be sustainable and economically viable, a goal they must reach to keep existing.
Yet for these passionate individuals the personal rewards outweigh the drawbacks. “You feel part of something bigger than yourself which is important especially in the world right now,” said Dominique.
The panelists finished by giving advice for anyone aspiring to work in social economy; know how to adapt to new situations, network to find individuals that are passionate about the same subjects as you, mentor and be mentored, make a business plan for yourself, be comfortable with being uncomfortable, self-reflect on your work, track everything you do, be pragmatic and lastly, put in the hours.