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Sustainable Profits for Good?

Last night I went to a fundraiser for the Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) ( GEEO is a great new non-profit that my Integral Geek-up friend Zach is the legal council for and also on the board of. GEEO’s mission is to facilitate travel for educators. The idea is to break down the walls of isolation and ignorance that stand in the way of us (Americans) interacting compassionately with the rest of the world by exposing as many as poosible to the wonders of travel. This mean helping teachers to see the world, but also helping them to bring these experiences back to the classroom. They have presentations and lesson plans that they hand to teachers upon their return to the classroom that makes it as easy as possible for them to share their experiences (and hopefully their new found appreciation for travel) with their class. They really did a great job of making it clear just how many students a teacher can impact in their career and just what the ramifications of instilling a positive outlook on travel in them could mean for the world.

But they will not turn a profit.

They actually had us there to ask for donations (at a fundraiser! go figure). They made it quite clear that they expected the fund raising, grant writng, and other means of outside support to not only continue, but actually grow as the ‘business’ does.

Tonight I was at a FLOW ( meeting. As I’ve said before. FLOW intends to help people engage in business in an effort to have a positive impact on the world. The idea here is to stop demonizing corporations, to stop making anyone the enemy, and to start creating a space for entrepreneurs to be do gooders; for making a living and making the world to go hand in hand.

Why do we assume that socially conscious endeavors should not turn a profit? Can’t they at least be self sustaining?

Isn’t there an amazing amount of waste, shame, and resentment in this fruitless shuffling of money between those endeavors which ‘support’ us and those which ‘nurture’ us. What’s the difference? Why the artificial separation? It is artificial. There is no reason that I am aware of that the two must be fundamentally separate.

I realize that this is a bit of a foreign idea to many. The dominant economic paradigm does seem to dictate that cut throat behavior is the means to an end if your end is to include a profit. But why is that? Is this not merely a short-sighted and ultimately unsustainable perspective? I think the state of the world today makes it obvious that this is true. You can only reap more than you sow for short periods of time. It is in everyone’s best interest(to be profitable and nurture others) to keep the ground fertile and healthy.

So what is the solution?

We must break down these barriers between sustainability in finances, sustainability of spirit and sustainability in nature(Triple Bottom Line). And not only do I think that this is possible and ultimately even required, people are already doing it. One of the tasks that decided to take on tonight as the NYC chapter of FLOW is to begin the documentation process of some of the stories of the people in our group who are already doing this.

Our group attracts amazing people with remarkable stories of looking at the world through compassionate eyes, recognizing need and moving forward with a profitable solution that does its best to benefit as many as possible at each step of the way in the business. No one has it perfect of course, but amazing strides are being made and it is quite clear that with each new endeavor there is a little less figuring out for everyone else.

I think that these ideas are already making their way through the consciousness of the populace at large. Hopefully we at FLOW will find ways to both speed up the process of making more people aware of these possibilities and also make it easier for those who are already undertaking such tasks.

Definitely more to come….

  1. I completely agree with everything you say here, but you have got to check your spelling.

  2. Thanks.
    That’s what happens when you write on your blackberry on the train and then just cut/paste late at night.

  3. Hello Devin,
    I am really glad that you liked the presentation we made. I actually originally planned on creating a for-profit company to help teachers travel, but in the end we became a non-profit for a few reasons. First of all, there is very little margin in the travel industry to begin with. My goal was to get as many teachers as possible to travel and I knew creating trips that were above market rates wasn’t going to be the answer. In addition reaching teachers is not as easy as you would think. Schools, educational professional organization, etc, would not spread the word about us if we were a for profit venture. The non-profit status gets us plenty of good will. For example, the pro-bono legal services of our mutual friend Zach. GEEO is considering adding on a service fee for people participating in our programs so we can create a revenue source that doesn’t rely on donations, but we have to keep it reasonable, maybe $50-100. Next year we will have about 75 teachers travel through our program. At $100 per person we would take in $7,500. That’s good supplemental income for us, but not enough to pay for the administrative costs of handling that many travelers. Anyway, thanks for coming to the event and I would like to know more about FLOW in the future.
    Jesse Weisz
    President and Founder

  4. Jesse,

    Glad you found me here. I certainly sympathize with your need to work within the current system. The average person (educators included)can not be expected to be blindly promote most for profit ventures the way they are comfortable creating a space for NGO’s. This perspective obviously is a result of the way most business’ are run, but is also part of what I hope (and expect) to see change.

    Hopefully as more and more capitalists become more and more conscious the public trust and desire to ‘give’ to such organizations will increase.

    Until then, I hope (and expect) that you guys will be very succesful. You’ve got a great idea and seem to have surrounded yourself with a lot of the right people.
    You should definitely come to one of the next FLOW meetings. The people there would love to here your story and offer any advice or support they can muster.
    Zach should have my contact info if you’re interested.

  5. Devin,
    Thanks so much for attending GEEO’s fund raiser and also for plugging us on your blog!
    Flow also sounds like an interesting organization and I’d love to check them out some time. I agree with your overall point that for-profit is not a bad thing and many people in the “social justice” community need to stop demonizing business. On the other hand I think it can be helpful for some purposes to distinguish between for-profit and not-for-profit.
    For example, Congress needs to have some sort of criteria to decide which organizations are tax exempt (i.e.: 501c3) and which are taxable. There are issues making for profit / nonprofit the dividing line, but I can’t think of a better criteria.

  6. I’m not sure why Congress would need to make a company tax exempt if they were profitable.

    Seems a bit like welfare; helps people in tough situations survive to see another day, but is more about giving out fish than training fishermen.

    Perhaps there is room for a program to ween 501c3’s off of the welfare teat?

  7. Devin,
    I’m not sure I understand your first sentence. Did you mean to say you don’t see why nonprofits have to be tax-exempt?

  8. I’m saying that they only need to be tax-exempt because they are not profitable. Combine working for the common good with a marketable idea (as I think GEEO has) and the whole paradigm shifts.

    Hopefully as the market place becomes increasingly conscious (as I think it is) and as it becomes increasingly common to see business models that follow triple bottom line thinking succeed, we will stop feeling as if worthwhile ventures require subsidies. It is the separation between economic sustainability (profitability) and common good that I think is unnatural and damaging and that I hope to spark some conversation about. In the short term we can pillage and profit. But with a longer view it is only by feeding back into the kosmos as much or more than we reap that something is sustainable. I think that the growing awareness of the interconnectedness of the world is sparking people to pay for things with such value. Americans are incredibly generous when it comes to donations. Yet so many shop for the cheapest possible item, trip, experience only to give away their excess to another cause. Why not create a venture that fulfills both drives?

    Again, I don’t mean to attack you guys. I know that you are working within the given system. But I do think that what you are doing, because of how valuable it is, will end up being self sustaining if you so choose.