NGOs & for-profits: A clash that’s changing our world
Understanding beyond what we don’t know
When defining business, an idea which works not to generate profit but out of sentiment for the cause, is not the first thought that comes to mind. Instead, we think of leadership and moving parts that generate wealth for owners and those who make up the organization. However, if we talk more on the subject of NGOs or local non-profits (as redundant as the name may sound) these better correlate with the idea of working for a cause out of pure passion.
But what if both these definitions—profit and passion—could be one and the same? That seems to be where the future of business is heading. In a world like ours today, with so many different realities and everchanging circumstances, there’s a need for more leaders that go beyond our typical definition of business and introduce that humanitarian aspect needed in everyday work for measurements of success besides revenue and profit.
Today, more than just thinking of business and humanitarian work as being distant from each other, or even opposite, we should begin looking at this issue beyond the traditional idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR). How can a company run itself, be profitable, and at the same time bring help to those who need it most in our world?
Changing your life, can change others
During this past semester, I had the privilege of working at a local NGO in Bogota, Colombia. I worked next to an extraordinary group of people who, every day, look to help the vulnerable population of Venezuelan refugees in the country in any way they can. A huge part of the organization is the fact they are a local group, led by refugees themselves. They understand the main complexities of the work they are doing and have an all-consuming passion for helping others with the same principal need they once faced.
I had the privilege of working at a local NGO in Bogota, Colombia.
In my time there, I learned many different things—from logistics to different organization methods—and, overall, how to provide the most help to the most people with limited resources. Most importantly, I learned that love for one’s job can defy the idea of not having enough resources; conversely, it can seem you have more than enough.
For me, humanitarian business needs to think beyond just what can a company do for good, but begin to think about how it can create worth around their own community. It’s no longer simply a matter of how can a company employ and give benefits to its own employees and do corporate social responsibility events now and then for PR. The real power lies in the ability business organizations have to generate shared wealth for the community they reside or find themselves in.
Donate? Create wealth instead
The NGO I worked with had an initial idea on how to do this. By using some of its donated clothing, they began a type of “goodwill” or charity store at their headquarters, where high-quality clothing was sold at extremely low prices, or sometimes given voluntarily, depending on the economic situation of who was buying.
This little store had two different effects. Firstly, it allowed the NGO to have an extra stream of revenue to contribute to the other operating costs it needed. Secondly, it created a new stream of part-time jobs for people in the community, as well as an opportunity for those in need to acquire high-quality clothing for an affordable price.
As part of my job, I had to reform the social media channels of our little store. Here, I could contribute something important, even with the limited but very practical knowledge I had gained from my then-three semesters at Hult. I could see little improvements that could make a big impact on the performance of the store.
Little things like changing the wording on products, when to post on social media that might make it easier for people who didn’t live in the area to see them, and how to interact with customers and inquires in a better way, can make an extreme difference when handling a small business like this one.
Learning to lead, and leading by learning
As time went by, I could see what many local organizations could do if they had someone with training and experience in different areas of business. And how this little local organization teaches so much to business leaders in terms of thinking outside the box, maximizing resources, and improving adaptability. How much we could gain from the coming together of two sides of business that, even if they’re seen as opposites, are truly just one and the same. How this idea will only spread across the world, and how we as the next business leaders should impart it as much as possible.
Business knowledge together with creativity can generate ideas never before seen, if we as business leaders keep on creating spaces for them to flourish. A local organization can change perspectives in so many ways; they move around problems and jump hurdles every day, with no more than a few ideas and the desire to do good in their specific cause or community.
Business knowledge together with creativity can generate ideas never before seen, if we as business leaders keep on creating spaces for them to flourish.
In an ever-changing business environment, clear leadership is very necessary; teamwork can only function if there is a space where all ideas are heard but someone takes the lead. This is what local organizations sometimes lack. It’s not that the people are not completely capable of running a business yet, they would just benefit from the knowledge and skills an experienced business leader could bring them.
While the business leader, who may think they have seen it all, could be surprised by what the hidden treasures of working alongside people who have a deep devotion for their community. This path of fusing and trying new things has been fruitful over the past few years, bringing exciting and new ideas to the world. If there’s something I learned over the past few months, it’s that there is always something new and exciting for those with enough vision to try it and expand on it.