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San Diego State University

Fowler College of
Business Administration

The Importance of Social Entrepreneurship

Jeff Church, Dr. Alex DeNoble, and L. Robert Payne

From left: Nika Water co-founder, Jeff Church; Lavin Center director, Dr. Alex DeNoble; lecture series namesake, L. Robert Payne.

As part of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center's L. Robert Payne Lecture Series, Jeff Church, the CEO and co-founder of Nika Water, spoke about the meaning of social entrepreneurship, its importance and the social objectives of his company. Church spoke to students, faculty and members of the general public on April 29, 2013 at the SDSU campus.

This growing movement has found a home in the College of Business Administration's management department. Instructor Mike Sloan lectures about the subject in his classes and runs his own social venture, Kalma Organics. Management professors Chamu Sundramurthy and Congcong Zheng have published academic research on the subject and have shared the research with their students.

"Social entrepreneurship has been growing substantially over the past 10 years and is proving to be valuable to underserved populations, consumers and the entrepreneurs themselves," said Zheng. "More and more, businesses not only provide goods, services and employment opportunities but also inspire and herald social improvements."

Church pointed out that while most people have used products from company's built on a social entrepreneurial foundation (Newman's Own, TOMS Shoes, Ben & Jerry's), many don't understand that this type of organization is a cross between a for-profit and a non-profit. For example, most of these organizations donate all or part their after-tax profits to a specific cause or charity. In the case of Nika Water, the profits from their bottled water are donated to various organizations bringing clean water to residents of developing nations and to planting trees.

"Social entrepreneurship is meant to act as a hand up, not a hand out," said Church who provided statistics that as charity in some developing countries increased, their gross domestic product (GDP) decreased.

Some of the "rules" outlined by Church for founding a successful social entrepreneurship company include:

  • Find like-minded people to work with you.
  • Make sure you have a good product.
  • Don't quit, even when it seems like the obvious thing to do.

Both Church and the SDSU faculty would agree that the phenomena of social entrepreneurship is on the rise and those companies are selling everything from sunglasses to high quality rugs to improve healthcare, education and the living conditions in countries throughout the world. According to their website, Nika alone has helped over 55,000 people attain access to clean drinking water.

"The Nika Water philanthropic business model is proof that substantial social impact can result from a market driven enterprise even in a highly competitive product category such as bottled water," said Sloan.

Starting from Fall 2013, students interested in social entrepreneurship can take related coursework to obtain an entrepreneurship minor.