Fans of the Wharton School’s Future of the Business World podcast featuring high school students talking about their creating footwear out of discarded tires – while also paying a fair wage to cobblers who craft their sandals. Jiro Noor built an app that connects farmers in Jakarta, Indonesia directly with the consumers who buy what they grow. Social and racial justice activist and Moniola Odunsi from Virginia, U.S., tells FBW podcast listeners that she is excited by the impact that Gen Z is making: “My generation wants to see and live in a future in which equality is not just an ideal, but an actual reality. A lot of people say we are the future changemakers. I would say that we are those people right now.”
And yet, while so many high school students want to do well in the world, that passion is not enough to build a social venture that will last, cautions Tyler Wry, a Wharton Dollars and Change, another Wharton podcast out of the Wharton ESG Initiative), sheds light on the landscape. In one episode, Cheryl Dorsey, founder of Echoing Green, a business that funds social entrepreneurship startups, defines the landscape.
Social innovation, she says, “is the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging, often systemic, social and environmental issues in support of social progress…it’s about how to use innovation as a disruptive tool to accelerate the pace of social change.”
Social entrepreneurs start businesses that do the work of solving those social problems. Max Strickberger, 22, has another name for them: impact founders. These entrepreneurs start businesses to improve society – and to make money. “Our generation doesn’t want to compromise,” says Strickberger, a 2022 Penn graduate. “We believe that great businesses shouldn’t trade their social ideals for financial ideals, or vice versa.”
Max has given a lot of thought to the impact-business movement. A few years back he co-founded IF: Impact First Ventures on Penn’s campus. Previously known as College Green Ventures, Impact First was among the winners of Penn’s 2022 President’s Engagement, Washington, D.C.’s largest student publication. “At these universities we work with students who are plugged in entrepreneurially and care deeply about making the world better. We run a six-week impact-education course that Professor Wry developed and afterwards students identify top companies in their school’s ecosystem. The result is that we’ve begun to build a community of young people who are committed to using entrepreneurship for good.”
Essential to IF’s mission is to identify businesses that are unwavering in their financial aims and commitment to positively impacting society. To do so, they help student-led businesses understand how to measure sustainable impact, which comes down to recognizing the difference between a pandemic project with his Penn classmate for some inspiration.)
“If you find something you care about, find a way – however small – to do something about it,” Max suggests. “Ask questions. Get things wrong. Put one foot in front of the other. You’re probably way more courageous while you’re young – and when you’re starting something from scratch, courage can feel like half the battle.”
And think strategically and logically about how what you’re doing will have a genuine, long-term impact on the world.
Impact First co-founder Max Strickberger says, “We believe that great businesses shouldn’t trade their social ideals for financial ideals.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree?
It’s not enough to just want to do good in the world; you need to think strategically about it. Max and his team have a scorecard to assess impact ventures on how committed they are to the impact-alongside-profits mission. What is meant by depth, breadth and additionality? What is the Theory of Change Model?
Have you started an impact venture? Share your story in the comment section of this article. Think you might like to share it more broadly on Global Youth’s Future of the Business World podcast? Send us your pitch!