Revenue: The Dirty Word of Social Entrepreneurship


Over this last spring, I have been living out of a roller bag attending conference after forum after summit after gaggle (yes, gaggle). All of these events were focused on the amazing world we are starting to live in. That alone is a positive step. Not so long ago, these kinds of events felt more like the wake of a dying planet.

There was talk of a new generation of global entrepreneurs tackling human trafficking, farming coops, meatless hamburgers, organic farming — a lot going on in food, btw — mobility, packaging, the oceans, work, education, and health.

Everyone talks about the planet's needs and how their business model is the key to a brighter future. There is a corporate and philanthropic audience eager to talk to the stars of today and tomorrow in need of funding and partnership. And, at some of these events, there are whole discussions tracks around the exploding world of impact investing.

But after many weeks of these presentations, breakouts, and cocktail hours, no one ever brings up the one word that makes it sustainable.


I'm not sure why no one talks about revenue. It reminds me of non-profits years ago who never explored or understood revenue. There was worry that being a not-for-profit meant not doing anything with the stink of capitalism on it.

We have moved beyond that, but creating a business model that generates revenue along with impact is the point of social entrepreneurship. Using business tools to create social value is awesome, but if it doesn't also create economic value, we aren't making the leaps we need to make.

Social impact and sustainability have tremendous amounts of economic value — now more than ever. Let's bring revenue out into the open. Where is the value proposition? Who is the customer? How much is it worth?

It's a more challenging conversation, but if we aren't even asking the hard questions, how can we solve the problem?