San Diego Business Journal Op-Ed

Time for Boomers to Jump into Social Enterprise

For the past 100 years or so, we have tried to solve our greatest social challenges through the government and/or the nonprofit community. We’ve asked our best and brightest to work in industry or on Wall Street in jobs that they might not love but will produce the greatest financial return. When they start to make real money, we ask them to give a portion of that money to others willing to work for less money in order to address some of our greatest challenges.

Here in San Diego, these challenges include homelessness, affordable housing, evolving education to meet our future high-tech workforce needs, transportation and the environment.

The opportunity, should we choose to accept it, is to work together as a business community to redesign how we address the social challenges we face. How do we create sustainable businesses that produce income and use the excess cash flow to address some of these challenges? Philanthropy is not a sustainable revenue model and the government has shown that it isn’t the answer either.

When someone says she or he wants to “do good” in society and make a difference, the typical response you’ll hear is “You should start a nonprofit!”

It’s time for that conversation to change, for good. Making a difference in the world and taking on our greatest social challenges need to be addressed by our best and brightest, NOW! We need to redirect talented business executives who are tired of making money for the sake of making money and help them use their time to find business models to solve these problems.

Over the past few years I’ve met dozens of CEOs and entrepreneurs who are looking for their next thing, and they never even consider using their skills to change the world because it seems so daunting. In addition, how will they make money from it?

The idea that we can solve our greatest challenges through philanthro- py alone is over. There is a better way, and it’s through social enterprise. Most social enterprises seem to be started by the millennial generation.

Follow Millennial Lead

It’s time for the baby boomers to take their place in this world of social change, not just as funders and advisers but as drivers of initiatives.

We’ve been taught how to lead, we’ve attended some of the best universities in the world and it’s our turn to redirect our energies, along with the millennials, toward what is deep inside of us. 

I’ve been privileged enough to visit some of the most economically challenged countries on this planet, and what I found was absolutely amazing. People were connected and engaged in their communities even though they were impoverished. The wealthier we become as a society the more disconnected we become from what matters.

We make more money so we can pay others to fix the problems. For a few decades I felt empty trying to make more money for myself and for others. It was only when I started to invest my time in effecting change did that emptiness start to go away.

I believe our highest calling is to be of service to our fellow man and help everyone live a life that they’re proud of. It’s not about giving people stuff, it’s about solving the root cause of the problem in the first place.

Sustainable Solutions

This city is filled with social and environmental issues that need to be ad- dressed. There are some great organizations trying to help, yet, they need more brainpower to address the solution from a much more sustainable place.

We have a huge discrepancy between school districts and the quality of our education. We have environmental issues that could threaten our society for decades to come, and the homeless problem seems to get worse by the day. Yet, our first instinct is to do what we were taught, to make more money and give some of it away to others willing to take on these issues.

If we wait and hope that someone else will solve these problems what will be left for our children and our grandchildren? This is our generation’s challenge, to partner with the millennials and face this head on! If you are interested in learning more, please join us at Purpose San Diego (www.PurposeSanDiego.com).

Who’s ready to change how we do business?

Larry Kesslin is Chief Connector at 5 Dots (www.5-dots.com), a local firm specializing in business development and coaching.