Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years.
It is Possible to Do Well and Do Good at the Same Time
The expression, doing well and doing good, is thought to come from the late 19th century, but is also sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Today, the idea of doing well and doing good has had a renaissance. More and more companies are adopting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs as a way to pursue this tenet in a variety of ways. Some companies are better at CSR than others and there is a continuing debate about whether CSR activities project a positive image without making a real difference. Regardless, the point, that it is possible to do well and do good at the same time, is the essence of what the Bean Project has been doing for 30 years. It is also the essence of what it means to be a social enterprise.
For us, doing well and doing good goes beyond good intentions and corporate responsibility and is baked into our operations. Our mission and our business are not separated or separable. They are two sides of the same coin; one does not exist without the other.
At the Bean Project we must go to work each day knowing we exist to do good (fulfill our mission), but can only accomplish that if we are also doing well (generating revenue and profit). Doing good does not happen if we aren’t also doing well. If we only do well, that is, merely make money, that would not fulfill our mission. Additionally, if we were to merely do good, but not make enough to survive, we would no longer be sustainable.
Therefore, in order to do well and do good, we have had to become clear about what each means.
What does doing well mean to us? It means that we must generate revenue in the form of sales, donations and grants, certainly, but that revenue must also have enough margin that we are able to cover the cost to make the product, operate the business and, most importantly pay the women’s wages.
Doing good means that we fulfill our mission to change women’s lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency. How will we know when we’ve fulfilled our mission? Yes, graduation, or completion of the program is important. But ultimately, we will measure our ability to do good by seeing how women’s lives have changed long-term. A year after graduating 95% of women are still employed. Our goal is to capture this data at 18 and 24 months post-graduation as well.
Dozens of graduates attended our recent 30th anniversary celebration. I was heartened to speak with many of them about their employment history since graduating. Shaundra is working on her Master degree and owns a cleaning business with her cousin. We talked about her hiring graduates. Today Katrina is managing the Goodwill store where she started working upon graduating from WBP. Six years after graduating the Bean Project, Nancy is still working at the same assisted living facility. Today we employ her daughter because Nancy referred her to us. These are all examples we can point to of how WBP is doing good. If we are doing good properly, the women, her family and our whole community benefit.
Perhaps, over time, this notion of doing well and doing good will become the way to pursue a successful business because the public will increasingly require it from the private sector. Doing well and doing good is core to our business model, but wouldn’t it be great if we all began to require the same commitment from every company in order to work for them or buy from them? Though not easy, it is possible to do well and do good. We have figured out how to do it and our hope is that others can as well, so we will all benefit.
Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO