Companies with Purpose: Giving Back While Becoming an Entrepreneur

Buy a pair of shoes and a second will be given to a child in need, possibly thousands of miles away. Just like that, the purpose of TOMS, a shoe company, became solidified under founder Blake Mycoskie’s vision.

“I didn’t even think of TOMS as a business when I launched it in 2006. I was thinking of it as just a fun project,” Mycoskie said in a 2016 interview published in Fortune.

Over 10 years later, the company has donated more than 75 million pairs of shoes to children in more than 70 countries globally, according to the company’s website.

It all started when Mycoskie visited Argentina in 2006 and saw children growing up without shoes. In his first year, he sold 10,000 pairs of shoes online and in local stores in Los Angeles, according to a 2016 article published by Fortune. Today, there are more than 500 employees working for Mycoskie, earning around $500 million in sales annually.

TOMS is one of the most well-known companies for giving back to those in need. In recent years, TOMS has expanded its efforts by providing eye care, access to clean water and safe birth kits to people in need.

But, you don’t have to create a multimillion-dollar company to make a difference.

Becoming an entrepreneur takes drive, dedication and vision – key ingredients that anyone can possess. Globally, we are more connected than ever, which is why starting a small business that benefits a developing country and its people is possible.

Small, locally-owned companies with a socioeconomic purpose can be found all over the country.

Fair Trade: Helping Farmers in Developing Countries

In Florida, local business owners Mike and Jennifer Simmons launched Java Planet Organic Coffee in 2009 with the goal of providing organic, fair trade coffee to people across Tampa Bay. Coffee beans from farmers in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru and Papua New Guinea are roasted in Ybor City, FL and distributed directly to consumers and local retailers. Creating a fair trade partnership beyond our country’s borders allows local businesses to make a difference thousands of miles away.

“We make sure it’s fair trade because we want to make sure that the farmers get proper compensation because then when they are fair trade, they can use that money, that they get this extra, to invest back in their farms,” Jennifer Simmons said in a 2015 interview with Fox 13 News in Tampa.

Companies like Java Planet Organic Coffee are members of Fair Trade USA, a non-profit certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. Thousands of companies are in the organization’s searchable database to give consumers access to those practicing fair trade.

Fair trade products are made with consideration to their effects on people and the planet. When consumers buy fair trade products, the money spent helps the country of origin and its people by providing fair wages, promoting healthy working conditions and reinvesting in those communities.

While creating a company that practices fair trade is a growing trend backed by consumers, it’s not the only way to make a difference half a world away.

Microloans: Creating Sustainable Businesses Globally

In 2012, Jack DuFour and Alley Heffern started a backpack company out of their college apartment in Virginia. The recent college graduates were in Uganda for an engineering project when they fell in love with the unique native fabrics.

“We sort of had this idea: a backpack that sort of celebrated cultures around the world and connected everyone through this single backpack,” Heffern stated in a 2015 article published in the Collegiate Times.

The company, named Taaluma Totes, quickly gained traction when the couple appeared on ABC’s television show Shark Tank in February 2015. The two shared their business model and vision for helping create sustainable businesses in developing countries around the world.

For each backpack sold, 20% of the profits are given back, as a microloan, to the country where the fabric is from. According to the website, microloans are given to farmers and small business owners and paid back “when they can.” Money from loan repayment is then used to buy more fabric to create more backpacks.

According to the company’s website, the appearance on Shark Tank fueled online shopping and resulted in more than $50,000 in microloans within 48 hours.

Today, the company has since expanded and grown inventory to include fabrics from Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti, Guatemala, Kenya, Afghanistan, Thailand and more.

Why Start a Business with Purpose?

From start-ups to enterprise-level companies, people are developing business models that enable customers to help those living in poverty-stricken areas, ensuring products are sustainably sourced and people are paid fairly.

According to a 2016 study by marketing firm Good.Must.Grow, 60% of people feel it is important to buy from socially responsible companies and 31% plan to spend more with socially responsible companies next year.

Conscious consumers are giving rise to changes in the corporate world.

Florida Tech instructor Jarin Eisenberg notes there is an increased emphasis on social responsibility. In her article Why Doing Good Makes Good Business Sense, Eisenberg notes that students want to work for companies that are socially minded and committed to environmental and corporate responsibility. This includes reducing negative effects on the environment, such as reducing gas emissions and sustainable farming, and fueling positive opportunities for people in developing countries.

For students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate business degree, these are important questions to consider. Eisenberg prompts students to “think about how you want to impact the world. How can business practices and philosophies be applied to solve global social problems?”

Incorporating social responsibility can provide meaning to your work.

Resources: Where to Get Started

If you’re ready to turn your passion into a business that gives back and makes a difference, review some of the resources below.

Small Business Organizations

  • The Small Business Administration features online tools to help you plan, launch, manage and grow your businesses, including everything from developing a business plan to financing your business. You can also connect with successful business leaders through the organization’s SCORE Association mentor program and participate in free online workshops or webinars.
  • The United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship focuses on four pillars: entrepreneurship education, entrepreneurship research, entrepreneurship outreach and public policy. Members receive access to an online career center, networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs, educational leaders and policy makers.

Fair Trade Organizations

  • The Fair Trade Federation is a business organization that advocates for fair trade, offers resources and connects fair trade businesses across the country with fair trade farmers and local businesses abroad. The organization offers mentoring groups, online discussions, cross-promotion and an annual conference for members.
  • Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit third-party certifier of fair trade products in the U.S. The organization connects businesses with farmers and local businesses through partnerships and cooperatives in developing nations, and ensures fair trade practices of its members.
  • Green Business Network is a program of Green America, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with organizations to build a green economy. Members are able to apply for certification through the organization and connect with like-minded businesses through online networking opportunities and in-person events.
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