Bob Dylan’s title track of his 1964 album ‘The Times They Are A-Changin' was founded on a conviction that the movement for social change was unstoppable. Although it was adopted as an anthem for a disenchanted youth railing against the establishment the lyrics are as pertinent now as they were then. Particularly when applied to a growing enterprise that is slowly reforming the capitalist model of yesteryear. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift founded on the principle that business can be used as a force for good and as an agent of positive social change. This movement is gaining legitimacy all over the world and has fueled the emergence the Certified B Corporation.
As co-chair and co-founder of B Lab UK, Charmian Love has worked with businesses that want to ‘walk the talk’ of profit with purpose by meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Specialising in the design of high impact investment and innovation strategies which provide positive outcomes for the planet, she is an active champion of this movement.
On Monday 13th March, Charmian addressed 30 of the brightest startups from around the world at the Chivas Venture Accelerator Week, the competition’s transformational mentorship programme designed by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. Before speaking to this unique collective of changemakers, we caught up with her to discuss the mindset of a social entrepreneur and her aspirations to help cultivate a global community, united by an energy to build a better world.
Working on the Chivas Venture do you find that all these social entrepreneurs have a similar mindset in common and if so what is it?
The Venture Capital (VC) industry is all about identifying entrepreneurs who don’t just have a great idea, but also have that determination to make the idea a reality. The ones that can scale it. My sense is there is a combination of skills or signals that you can pick up from entrepreneurs. The first one, especially social entrepreneurs, is they really have to care about the problem they are solving. It’s something you can hear in the tone of their voice or see in the twinkle of their eye. But they’re also people that when they come into a room the air shimmers a little differently. It’s the passion that oozes through their pores, that matters.
Behind the B-Corp message is the idea of business as a force for good. The word force feels key, is that something you would agree with?
The use of that language is not about aggression. Force for me is being part of a movement. This is about coming together and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The individual business are a force for good, in terms of the employees and customers it serves, and the B-Corp movement is about building a community of those business. So the word ‘force’ relates more to the energy than anything else.
Do you think there is a paradigm shift currently happening where businesses are beginning to realise that, to coin a cliche, with great power comes great responsibility?
There absolutely is a paradigm shift. I think the shift is the reinvention of the Chicago School of Economics. In the past we built models around the concept of shareholder primacy. What we’re now seeing is a rejection of what has been a traditional binary function of profit on one side and purpose on the other. We’re seeing that businesses can achieve both at the same time. You can take it one step further in that paradigm shift in that if you have a really solid purpose that guides what your business does, if channeled properly, it can drive profit for your business. And this profit can then go back into funding and fuelling your purpose. It creates a virtuous cycle. Exciting times!
How do you balance, especially to shareholders, social responsibility with profit?
The word balance is interesting because balance is holding things in tension with one another. The better analogy is how these things blend together. In the B Corp movement we look at how the purpose of the business is deeply embedded within the strategy and operations of the business. And then the further step a business needs to take to become a B Corp involves changing its legal documents to state that the business must equally consider both shareholders and stakeholders in all decisions.
Today is International Women’s Day - which women have inspired you?
My mum. I was lucky to have been brought up by an incredible woman. She was always around for important events in our lives as children but she was also a hugely respected lawyer in Canada. The other woman who has had a profound influence on me was the great Pamela Hartigan who was the Director for the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship until she recently passed away. Mentor isn’t a strong enough word to describe her influence on my life. She was my inspiration, she helped me find a pathway into this sector. She taught me to have the confidence to challenge things that didn’t make sense. And she taught me the power of entrepreneurs and in particular those who are focussed on solving problems.
You must be exposed to a huge amount of innovative solutions and business ideas; are there any that particularly stick out?
It’s not a business in particular but a thematic area that I think has huge growth potential. The circular economy. We often talk about sustainable growth but this can only truly happen if we’re able to unlock new ways of making sure any growth is truly sustainable with zero environmental footprint. The circular economy is definitely an area to watch!
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