3 Ways Social Enterprises Can Attract Millennial Investments

Money talks, and with millennials representing $2.45 trillion in spending power, corporations are paying close attention to this generation’s financial interests. Having grown up with globalization and economic disruption as the norm, millennials are interested in investing towards a more equitable future for all. One recent study found that the average millennial donates nearly $600 per year to charitable causes. This social responsibility extends beyond what millennials purchase to how the companies they support are choosing to spend their profits.

Here are a few ways social enterprises can find success among millennials:

  1. Open up an online shop with a purpose

Millennials like supporting small businesses that are less likely to exploit their workforce or cause damage to the environment. Online stores can appeal to this demographic by weaving social responsibility into their platforms. The eyewear company Warby Parker capitalized on this trend by offering stylish yet affordable prescription eyewear and committing to donate a pair of glasses for every pair sold. They also train men and women in developing countries to perform basic eye exams and sell glasses as part of their program. Since launching in 2010, the eyeglasses company has grown from an online shop to 61 retail showrooms in the United States and Canada. The Australian family-owned company Bottle 4 Bottle has a similar business model and donates bottle of premium formula to orphaned or abandoned children in need for every lotion or spray tan bottle sold.

  1. Make a significant social impact through your corporation

According to Cone Communications, 70 percent of millennials are willing to spend more on brands that support causes they care about. In order to capture this segment’s attention, companies should conduct research to find causes that fall in line with their business interests. Millennials expect transparency, so the cause should be something that business owners genuinely feel called to address.

Retail giant Target lets customers choose the cause with their Target’s Bullseye Gives Program.  They invited their sizeable Facebook community to vote on ten nonprofits over a two-week period and portioned out $3 million based on voting percentages.  Since then we’ve seen corporations like Pepsi and Chase Bank launch similar social media giving campaigns.

Meed is working to redefine financial mobility with our SocialBoost program. Through this initiative, our users have the opportunity to earn funds by referring friends and family, who sign up with one of our Member Banks.  And as Meed rolls out across more countries, SocialBoost will help every Meeder who is working towards financial security, whether they live in Latin America, Asia or North America.

  1. Expand volunteering programs for employees

As a whole, millennials are more generous with their time than previous generations. They appreciate working for companies that provide volunteer opportunities and seek employees’ input on how to engage in social causes.

Rachel Hutchisson, vice president of corporate citizenship & philanthropy at Blackbaud, a leading technology company that provides solutions to the philanthropic community, advises that, “Social responsibility and HR should work together using data gained from engagement and volunteerism surveys — to determine what programs are most compelling for each audience.”

Not only will this strategy appeal to the millennial workforce (which is estimated to grow to 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025), but it will emphasize your commitment to social causes and draw more millennial customers.

Can Tiny Homes Put an End to Homelessness?

Can the “tiny house movement” mitigate rising homeless populations in America’s most populous cities? While homes less than 500 square feet have become a fad for lots of people looking to live more simply, shrink their environmental footprint and lessen their financial burdens, governments and social service organizations have also taken notice of its potential for rehabilitating people experiencing homelessness nationwide.

In 2001, the City of Portland, Oregon, became one of the first to turn tent encampments into semi-permanent housing with Dignity Village. The community houses up to 60 people per night and, constructed with mostly recycled and reclaimed materials, has an incredibly low environmental impact. Unlike most homeless shelters, Dignity Village gives residents the ability to decide who lives with them and couples and pets are not forced to split up. Residents can live in the village for up to two years with extensions granted to individuals working in leadership positions within the village and those taking active steps to transition out of homelessness. Dignity Village is the longest existing, continually operating, city-sanctioned tiny home village for the homeless in the United States, and many other cities are hoping to duplicate their efforts.

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is expanding Portland’s model to Washington State. Seattle currently has five tiny house sites serving over 200 people, and unlike Dignity Village which only offers porta-potties, Seattle’s tiny house villages have a central building with flush toilets. Residents struggling with substance abuse issues are not required to be sober in order to be eligible for housing, although they do have to commit to good behavior and to complete community chores. Through the Tiny Homes Initiative, LIHI has helped 106 people find gainful employment with the assistance of case managers and has reunited 34 people with family and friends.

There’s little doubt that tiny homes are an improvement over tent cities, but many question their long-term effectiveness. One reason that tiny homes are so affordable and easy to build is that they aren’t held to the same standards as typical dwelling units categorized under the International Building Code. Most lack electricity and running water, and some worry that they will eventually turn into shantytowns. Barbara Poppe, who coordinated federal homelessness policy for most of Barack Obama’s presidency, believes that such basic accommodations further stigmatize the homeless and that related funding should be used to develop permanent affordable housing instead. Advocates for tiny home villages argue that such housing is still preferable to sleeping on the streets, and offers more privacy than typical shelters.

Tiny homes emerged out of necessity as a temporary solution to a dire problem, but their long-term impact on reducing homelessness remains to be seen. Although tiny homes might seem modest to some, to others they represent a much-needed second chance.

What do you think?

What It Means to Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker

Terms like socially conscious, social enterprise and eco-friendly get thrown around a lot. But what do they actually mean? And does it really matter if we buy products and support companies that label themselves as such?

To shed light on this topic, I chatted with Jamie Kopp, a passionate social justice advocate who works at a nonprofit organization in Vancouver that provides settlement services to immigrants and refugees.

For Jamie, being a socially conscious consumer means living with intentionality and realizing that the purchasing decisions we make everyday impact the world, for better or for worse. These decisions include everything from where we shop, to where we bank, to the food we eat, to the financial investments we make, to how and where we travel. And so on.

Why Being a Socially Conscious Consumer Is Good for the World

You’ve probably heard stories of destitute workers, including young children, earning meager wages while working in deplorable conditions. Governments in their respective countries may be unstable, with minimal enforcement of labor or environmental laws.

These workers are left vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous foreign employers looking to cut production expenses by paying lower wages and avoiding the environmental regulations that these companies face in their home countries.

Unfavorable and downright unethical business practices take many other forms too. For example, opening fake customer bank accounts, discriminating against certain races or genders in the hiring process and using harmful ingredients.

But fortunately, no matter what issues you care about most, you can impact them meaningfully through your spending power. “Money talks” is not a meaningless cliché. Where you put your dollars, or whatever your currency is, matters!

Withholding your money from companies whose business practices you don’t support is a direct cut to their sales, and ultimately to their bottom line. And while our individual decisions are powerful, Jamie challenges us to encourage our peers too. Think about how we can multiply the impact when others follow our lead!

How to Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

Inevitably you’re thinking, “Okay that sounds nice. But products that come from ‘socially conscious’ companies are way more expensive.” In some cases, that may be true. But Jamie says oftentimes it’s simply a matter of analyzing price vs. value.

Think about those $100 name-brand shoes you bought. Did the manufacturing company pay workers fair wages? Were the shoes sourced from sustainable materials? If not, look into shoes that are manufactured with social good in mind. The price actually may be similar to your name-brand shoes. In one case you’re paying for the brand name and in the other you’re paying to support vulnerable communities and the conservation of the earth.

And it’s inspiring to see that more and more often, you can get the best of both worlds! Considering 91% of millennials say they’ll switch brands to benefit a cause they believe in, our consumer demands are forcing popular name-brand companies to modify their business practices.

If you’re more in the $30 shoe range though, then yes, some socially conscious products may be significantly more expensive. In those cases, look for quality second hand and consignment shops. If nothing else, you can help recycle items that otherwise might end up in a landfill.

Or DIY! For instance, grow your own herbs or make your own soap. You can source eco-friendly, organic (no chemicals) ingredients yourself at lower cost than buying these products in the store.

How to Find Socially Conscious Companies

Use the internet and social media hashtags to search for brands using terms like “triple bottom line,” “B corporation,” “social enterprise,” “social good,” “socially conscious,” “eco-friendly,” “fair trade,” “social impact,” “social responsibility” and “sustainability.”

You’ll quickly find lots of businesses doing amazing things to make a positive difference in the world, both locally and globally. And hopefully some are brands you already patronize!

But how can you tell if companies are for real? In whatever way they claim to contribute to social good—whether it’s intrinsic to their mission, through one-off campaigns, or through a corporate social responsibility arm—Jamie says it should be transparent, clear and specific on their website or social media.

Ask brands publicly on social media about their business practices and contribution to social good. (Don’t forget the power of social media to call out brands on their unethical practices too!). Also, ask friends and your social media network for socially conscious brand recommendations.

Jamie encourages shopping at small businesses and farmers’ markets in your neighborhood too. In addition to supporting your local economy, buying local gives you much greater line of sight to business practices versus shopping at stores owned by huge corporations.

Final Thoughts

Of course, you have to pick your battles. Not every product you consume will contribute to social good. You also might discover a brand you thought supported an issue that’s important to you really doesn’t. And sometimes it’s hard to cut through the fancy marketing to find the truth. Nevertheless, making one socially conscious choice is better than nothing!

Also, Jamie urges us to instill a socially conscious mindset in children by teaching them how to be passionate advocates for social good. Additionally, she would love to see regulation requiring companies to disclose more information about their business practices.

If you haven’t already, start getting familiar with unfamiliar socially conscious brands, and reconsider trusting the trusted name-brand products that may be harming you, the people you care about, and the entire world we live in!

Want to learn more from Jamie? Follow her on Instagram: @jayjay_world1



5 Social Enterprises in Southeast Asia That Are Making the World a Better Place

Southeast Asia is quickly becoming a hotspot for wandering expatriates and ambitious millennials looking to capitalize on the region’s growing support for social enterprises. Vietnam is just one country that’s taking advantage of this trend, and in 2014 the country amended enterprise laws to provide social entrepreneurs with special consideration and the ability to obtain investments both domestically and abroad. Here are a few social enterprises helping developing countries compete in a global market:

  1. Zo Paper is creating a demand for the high-quality, traditional Vietnamese “Do” paper by finding modern uses for it with lamps, notebooks, envelopes and greetings cards. This helps employ rural villagers and preserve what was a dying tradition. Zo now has a gift shop in Hanoi that sells beautifully handcrafted supplies to locals and tourists alike.
  1. Tohe encourages playfulness and creativity by repurposing children’s artworks into lifestyle products such as clothes, accessories, housewares and toys. They host creative workshops for disadvantaged children and selected artworks from those classes are then redesigned and sold to help fund their classes and scholarship programs. Tohe has locations across Vietnam including major airports.
  1. Dexterity Global is creating the next generation of leaders through educational opportunities. The social enterprise provides educational resources and training to middle schools and high schools in remote areas of South Asia. They hope to connect promising young students with opportunities that will equip them with the mentality to solve “21st-century problems with 21st-century solutions.”
  1. Based in Cambodia, FunkyJunk is an innovative social enterprise that seeks to address pollution and provide opportunities for disadvantaged communities. They upcycle plastic bags from the streets and fields and turn them into beautiful, functional, long-lasting treasures.
  1. Founded in Singapore in 2014, WateROAM develops simple, portable, and affordable water filtration solutions to significantly improve access to clean drinking water. This enterprise promotes social change in rural areas and helps bring about quick access to clean drinking water at disaster-hit locations.

Once upon a time, doing social good was mostly restricted to charities. But in today’s world, social enterprises make it possible to do good and support local and global economies at the same time. As a social enterprise in Vietnam ourselves, we’re glad to be in good company!