Social Business in Practice

Mohammed Yunus has written several books on the relationship of free enterprise and the elimination of poverty. His work in Bangladesh has been the subject of discussion for years. He has developed a very interesting definition of social business which I’d like to explore this morning.

Yunus, in his book Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, defines social business as a profit making endeavor that is considered a non-loss and non-dividend business. The profit “rather than being passed on to investors, . . . is reinvested in the business. Ultimately, it is passed on to the target group of beneficiaries in such forms as lower prices, better service, and greater accessibility.” One could ask the question other than Yunus who is actually practicing this?

Panera Bread is a $1.5 billion corporation that provides a healthy product with great service. It is a company that does things well, but wants to do good things. Therefore, in Clayton, MO Panera has converted one of its restaurant from a for profit endeavor to a “non-profit pay-what-you-want restaurant with the idea of helping to feed the needy and raising money for charitable work.”

People that go into that restaurant decide how much they want to pay for a sandwich, and then any profit left goes to help train at-risk youth. This is social business at work. Panera actually has several of these restaurants throughout the United States. Besides the Clayton establishment, there is one in Dearborn, Michigan and another in Portland, Oregon. Panera plans to add another every three months.

Panera has statistics that give an indication of how people handle this pay-what-you want opportunity. Approximately 60% leave the recommended amount, while 20% leave more, and 20% leave less. I think I am going to take my wife to Panera for lunch tomorrow.

Free enterprise can make a difference. All of us will work at a job, and make a paycheck. However, how we view that process determines whether we are in it for ourselves or for a higher cause. I’ll end with a little analogy to describe what I mean.

Three bricklayers were interviewed by a reporter and asked what they were doing. The first bricklayer answered that he was making a living laying bricks. The second bricklayer answered by stating he was attempting to be the best bricklayer ever. The third bricklayer answered the same question with the statement, “I’m building a cathedral.”

All of us will work, but why we work will make all the difference in the world.

And that is my thought for the day!


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