How To Make A Difference And Make Money

By Jo Burston | Running a business with a social impact doesn’t mean that you have to run it as a non-profit. Jo Burston explains why doing good and making money is the business mode of the future.

There is a common misconception that when entrepreneurs seek to create sustainable change, it has to be purely capital driven or not for profit. Realising a business run for social good wasn’t a common model in Australia, I coined the term “profitable smart heart”, an organisation that seeks to make money and has social and economic impact.

Founders of “smart heart” organisations are more widely referred to as social entrepreneurs, and are driving a business model that will only grow in the near future. The younger generation want to make a social impact at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, rather than as an add on further down the track.

But what exactly is a social entrepreneur? Among all of the buzzwords about startups and entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship can be a tricky concept to define. According to Ashoka, a global pioneer in the field, a social entrepreneur is an individual with an innovative solution to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide scale change.

Over the past few years, social entrepreneurship has become recognised as a business model in its own right, and acknowledged by world leaders. In 2008, President Barack Obama used the term to express how he hoped to support small not for profit organisations. There’s clearly a demand and a place in the world for social entrepreneurs, however, many people still struggle to accept that you can be a driver of social change, while also making money.

When we launched Inspiring Rare Birds, many people instantly assumed that because it was an organisation that aimed to have large social impact, it was a not for profit or a philanthropic venture. A comment I received early on from an industry corporate was, “it would be much easier to help you if you were a not for profit”.

Aside from investors not taking social entrepreneurs seriously, there is also a common misconception that being a female who helps other people in their businesses means that my work must be charitable in nature, rather than a highly scalable commercial business model.

This was the reason I coined the phrase ‘profitable smart heart’. Entrepreneurs can neatly sit as conduits and enablers between industry and philanthropy, industry and academia, or even industry, philanthropy and academia. Social entrepreneurship organisations such as Rare Birds are a proof point for this new model and we will continue to shift traditional assumptions as we grow.

My advice to aspiring social entrepreneurs:

  1. Start with the end in mind — what is the real problem that you are seeking to change with impact? This should be huge enough that it would take a lifetime to achieve and will create a lasting legacy.
  2. Create a succession plan early on. It takes an army to change the world and a leader to start it. You can’t do it all, but you do need to have people on board that are willing to share the vision and the heavy lifting.
  3. Be 100% committed. Your commitment needs to be driven by passion, purpose and a real desire to make a mark on the world.
  4. Be clear that your organisation aims to be profitable — whether that’s with your supporters, within the industry, the government, the media, or other entrepreneurs. Be proud of the fact that by driving a profitable smart heart business, you can be sustainable and still create mutual value financial and philanthropic supporters.
  5. Always work on the win-win with supporters. Like any form of entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship requires creativity, innovation and value creation, for all stakeholders.

Jo Burston is the founder and CEO of Job Capital and entrepreneurial movement Inspiring Rare Birds,


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