Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Looking Back - 2006 Skoll Foundation "Profit for a Purpose"

I'm in the process of updating the web library that I host on the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site and I just opened a link to this 2006 conversation hosted on the Skoll Social Edge Forum (now an archive).

The topic was Profit for a Purpose.

I scrolled through the conversation and found that I'd posted some thoughts. They are still relevant today, so I've re-posted them below.


Thinking of Social Enterprise in three dimensions, not two:


You had many inspiring ideas in your message. One that made me chuckle in agreement was "The private sector uses the term “going concern” which implies an active, dynamic, tap-dancing state also known as survival."

I’ve led a donor-funded(non profit) organization in Chicago for 14 years and when donors ask for a report on accomplishments I always say my first accomplishment is that I’m still in business and able to continue the process of growing from good to great in the coming year. I rely on a wide range of volunteers to supplement an inconsistent flow of dollars.

When I read about the various social enterprise leaders and activities, I see innovative people finding ways to support their own vision for saving the world. The funds they raise from their enterprise support one or a few organizations that do the work they are interested in. The more successful they are, the greater their ability becomes to host forums like this, bringing others together to share ideas.

While this is good, what about the others in the world who do similar work, maybe in different places, and who have not found a way to create a revenue producing enterprise to sustain their vision? What would it take to expand the support generated by one entrepreneur for a single charity, to multiple charities doing the same work, or to multiple charities needed to solve the same problem?

Here’s my example. I maintain a database listing 200-300 organizations in the Chicago region that offer various forms of volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring. Each is constantly seeking dollars. Mentoring is a long term process, so each needs to find ways to keep kids and volunteers connected for many years.

Most are not running food pantries to pay the bills, and few parents have the funds to pay for services. Thus, most operate in a level of relative poverty, struggling to do good work, and still be in business at the end of each year (survival).

By providing my list of organizations via the Program Locator at at, I make it possible for any business, college, law association, etc. who wants to make the world better by helping inner city kids connect with mentors, and move to jobs, to create a social enterprise that draws dollars, volunteers and other resources to all tutor/mentor programs throughout Chicago on a consistent basis, or to fund just one or a few programs in a single zip code, if they choose. (The Lend A Hand Program at the Chicago Bar Association is an early adopter of this strategy – )

If a few people from every industry who have been successful in making profit, point their profit and their employees and customers, to tutor/mentor programs throughout the city, there will be a better distribution of resources to all programs doing this work, and more programs will have the ability to constantly get better at what they do.

Since tutoring/mentoring alone will not solve the problems facing kids in poverty, I suggest a "blueprint" be created that shows all of the services that are needed at any time in order for a youth to reach adulthood. All of these need to be funded, just as all sub contractors on a building blueprint need to be funded. If that does not happen, the program is not successful. By only funding a few of the needed services in a neighborhood, city or country, we only address part of a complex problem, and may not really solve the problem at all. Thus funding, or social enterprise, needs to focus at multiple service providers, not just one or a few.

This is a three dimensional approach, where a) for profits choose a cause to support, and stick with it for decades; b) social entrepreneurs who have succeeded in creating a money flow point their resources at multiple organizations, not just their own non profit; and c) where non profits are able to attract and retain a higher quality of leadership who use the resources more effectively for social benefit, while also learn to collaborate with others, and market there efforts more successfully to compete for resources for the entire community, not just their own agency.

The result would be that more places where tutoring/mentoring is needed would begin to have good programs that not only survive from year to year, but begin to accelerate the rate of youth finishing school with a network of adults helping them to the next level in their lives. While my example focuses on tutoring/mentoring, I feel it could apply to any other social endeavor.

In the past couple of years I’ve sent invitations to the Said Business School, and to others in the US, encouraging teams of graduate students to adopt this approach, creating an international competition of business school teams who compete with each other to see which can raise the most money, visibility and volunteers, for tutor/mentor programs in their community. If such a competition repeated from year to year, its visibility, and impact would grow and young people would learn lessons they could apply the rest of their lives. You can read about this idea on this wiki page.

If some of you reading this would like to take a role of making this idea a reality, I hope you’ll contact me.

A couple of things are obvious in what I wrote in 2006.

1) I could really have benefited from a spell check for my post.  I've found that too often to be the case when I write and type stream of conscious posts.  I'm sure that has hurt my credibility over the past 25 years.

2) The problem I was describing has not changed in 13 years since I wrote this.

3) I'm still trying to find a lead university and business sponsor to get the Business School Connection idea off the ground.

Below is a presentation describing the need for a "blueprint" and showing work that I was trying to do in past years and still seek to do as we head into 2020.

Much has changed for me personally and professionally. Since 2011 I have not led the Cabrini Connections direct service program.  And since 2011 I've led the Tutor/Mentor Connection through the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC, which is no longer a 501-c-3 but now one of those social enterprises seeking investors.

Because of my age, I'm 72, I no longer seek to re-build the Tutor/Mentor Connection around me. Instead I seek a partner, at a university, or a business, or of a new group of younger leaders, who will use all that I've created and re-build it, making it much stronger and more influential in the next decade.

The Business School Connection idea is just one of many that are on the drawing board waiting for investors to help bring it to life.

I want to help make that happen while I still am able.

I'm on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Connect with me in one of those spaces or introduce yourself with a comment on this blog.

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