It's a convenient buzzword, but what does the citizen sector actually mean? Popularized by Ashoka and its CEO Bill Drayton, citizen sector is used “to define the millions of groups established and run by mission-minded individuals across the globe who are attempting to address critical social needs.”
It’s basically a short-handed way of pointing out organizations working on social change. What distinguishes citizen sector organizations from other socially-minded businesses is that they reinvest all of their profits back into social programs. Even though most citizen sector organizations are non-profit by nature, the foundation for their creation often mimics for-profit entrepreneurial peers, seeking the same startup resources, top-tier talent and innovative ways to fund growth.
It’s also a way of describing one of the fastest growing global business sectors. Drayton and his colleague Valeria Budinich noted in a September 2010 Harvard Business Review story that citizen sector organizations have been creating jobs three times as fast as other employersin developing countries over the past three decades. Meanwhile, the number of citizen sector organizations had grown over 300% in the U.S. since 1982, often reaching new levels of success by teaming up with for-profit entities.
One example the Harvard Business Review story cited was that of Aurolab, an India-based citizen sector organization that produces lenses for cataract patients. The nonprofit not only produced less costly lenses, but they teamed up with a number of groups including Deutsche Bank to create a charity Eye Care group to help combat blindness. It’s the perfect example of a citizen sector company finding innovative ways to create social change through entrepreneurial products.
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