University of Southern California

Adlai Wertman
Building Sustainable Organizations
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I spend my days (and nights) thinking about how we can find new solutions to the world’s greatest challenges – poverty, poor education, lack of access to health care in developing nations and environmental degradation, among many others. To date, we have relegated the job of addressing these problems to two sectors of the economy – government and NGOs. Historically, we have asked them to accomplish these goals despite extremely limited resources. As a result, their work is simply not financially sustainable.

This stands in sharp contrast to the private sector – where capitalism requires sustainability. Businesses grow without hand-outs. They don’t rely on the kindness of strangers or taxation to fulfill their missions of ROI and prosperity. Businesses provide jobs, economic prosperity, and increased standards of living. Successful companies, as well as business-women and men pay the taxes and offer the philanthropy to address the problems that will still plague the world. A thriving private sector is absolutely essential to any solutions. Unfortunately, the basic structure of capitalism limits the ability of business to proactively attack social problems.

So here is the conundrum – we have two barely sustainable, but highly professionalized sectors (public and non-profit) – addressing world challenges and one highly sustainable sector (for-profit) that is just not built for that task. The question I struggle with is how we can get the best of both worlds. I believe this requires a new model, one in which the smartest people in both fields work together on the challenges. This is not a matter of sending business people in to “fix” non-profits – they aren’t broken. Rather, this is about creating a “hybrid” model of enterprise - an organization that applies market-based strategies to achieving philanthropic goals.

These ‘hybrids’ can be defined as sustainable organizations making sustainable change. (You won’t see me talking about non-profit versus for-profit here. As my friend and the co-founder of Kiva, Jessica Jackley notes – non-profit is a tax code, not a religion.) Hybrids are organizations that look, smell and taste like businesses, yet their primary mission is social impact, not (just) financial return on investment. They are in business first and foremost to address social, health and environmental challenges.

The creation and management, of these new mission-based business models requires a new brand of leaders – ‘social entrepreneurs’. They need to be trained in business while at the same time looking to use their education and experience in a whole new way. Social entrepreneurs need to have the same skill sets as any good business leader - management, marketing, finance, accounting, information systems and entrepreneurship. But they also need to understand how social impact is achieved.

At Marshall, we have taken on the challenge of producing and nurturing these new leaders. Through our Marshall Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab – we are offering classes, programming, fellowships, mentoring and subsidies. We have even created an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in social entrepreneurship. Our students are taking jobs and internships where they can make a difference while utilizing their business educations – and making a good living! They are working in education, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, alternative energy, social enterprise, consulting and philanthropy.

I am proud to be a part of Marshall’s efforts to create responsible leaders. I am proud of our students’ desire to impact the world – in any field they choose to pursue. And I am proud to be part of the greater Trojan family who take to heart the value of their educations and their responsibility to use that education for the ultimate benefit of society.