Building a Sustainable, Mission-Driven Company
When we founded the CoLab Cooperative in January of this year, we were putting legal structure to a mission to serve the earth and its inhabitants via a cooperative business entity building Internet technology. Notice the word "cooperative."
At some point in my growth along the continuum from activist college student to pragmatic technology entrepreneur, I came to the conclusion that working with the natural flow rather than in conflict against was the path I was called to. Since that time, I have watched as economic, social, and legal systems have slowly begun to reflect a deeper opportunity to use powerful macro forces to drive positive change.
On the economic front, I have been deeply inspired by the strides that social entrepreneurship has made over the past decade. The concept of using business as a force for social change has gone from being a mostly academic case study to a pragmatic discipline with real opportunities to launch and operate businesses that would do good — while being sustainable.
When I was attending Stanford, there were many of us who thought that making money was selling out. Editor’s note: A quite comfortable position to take while sitting in the halls of one of the most expensive universities in the country.
I was disdainful of those selfish few (or many depending upon who you asked) who sought profit at the expense of others. I witnessed so many selfish, profiteering businesses in the world that I lost sight of the opportunity for business to be a potential agent of positive change.
There is no reason why a business cannot itself be as dramatically shifting of society as any other potential cause.
I guess that is why we grow older — to give us time to shake off some our overly simplistic notions in order to see the nuance and contradiction of wisdom.
At CoLab, we are building an engine to do good in the world, and we want it to be sustainable. Unlike in college, "sustainable" no longer means simply using recycled paper stock at the printer. It means helping partners and collaborators to generate the revenue they need to accomplish community-driven missions. It means generating the revenue we as a company need to support our families, shop local organic and to give freely to our neighborhoods. And it means using that revenue to broadly support people and businesses who are working together with a shared desire to give back to the earth.
So you see, profitability is no longer a dirty word to me. It is actual not that far from the hallowed green of "sustainable" in my current vocabulary because I know where my intention is at. My intention is to help clients, customers, users, and partners to do good in the world, to drive positive change using technology.
Good work will not be long for the world if a company be it non-profit or otherwise is not profitable. But why don’t we just call it "sustainable."