Doing good doesn’t have to be selfless. By all means, donate your money or time — but realize that there’s nothing wrong with helping the world in a way that also helps you.
I think of my line of work that way. I believe the world needs more diverse workplaces, but I don’t go around volunteering my time to every team without a woman of color. Working as a diversity consultant allows me to make a difference and put food on the table.
Giving back and doing business don’t need to be separate activities. In fact, it’s better in many cases that they’re not.
Helping people and making a profit don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Taking on the Internet
The world is full of needs that philanthropic and government programs simply can’t solve.
Just this month, the U.S. Department of Justice threatened tech companies that don’t take certain steps to stop online child abuse. But social media companies have been trying to do that for years, without much success — child abuse appearing on their platform doesn’t exactly attract users. Child advocacy groups simply can’t be expected to police the internet.
Businesses tend to do best when built around specific problems, child abuse included. Tech startup L1ght, which uses AI to prevent people from hurting kids using toxic content online, has discovered toxic findings hosted via GIPHY, CloudFlare, Bing, and more.
“Filtering out harmful content after it’s already affected children is, at best, a Band-Aid solution,” L1ght’s CEO and co-founder, Zohark Levkovitz, said. “Online abuse simply won’t be solved without a proactive approach. This new coalition of tech giants and governments is a great announcement, but we still believe they will need a third-party technology to solve their toxicity issues without any conflict of interest, and purely for the sake of saving millions of children.”
Although America’s healthcare system certainly has its issues, it’s also true that the U.S. leads the world in drug development. To lower development costs and get drugs to market faster, startups are turning to technology.
According to Mike Novotny, CEO of e-clinical trials company Medrio, a recurring challenge is accurate reporting. “As it turns out, 75% of people do not fill out their surveys as scheduled. Instead, they backfill surveys from the past month when they pull into the doctor’s parking lot,” he explains. Medrio’s electronic, time-stamped surveys must be completed within a 24-hour window.
If the federal government or nonprofit groups were in charge of drug development, would they have developed a digital system for studying drugs? Perhaps — but when I visit the DMV, I still have to stand in line to fill out paper forms.
Innovation isn’t free. That’s true not just in the U.S., but around the world.
Solving the Skills Gap
In healthcare and in the media, financial motives have shown the way to new solutions. In education, too, the market can make a difference.
If there’s one place where business leaders struggle to find talent, it’s tech. And while scholarships and inspiring teachers convince many students to go into the field, the demand far exceeds the supply of people with tech skills.
Startups have stepped in by finding talent in unusual places and developing it. Groups like LaunchCode and Andela look for young people interested in software engineering. They then give them real-world experience and connect them to companies in need of cost-effective technical employees.
The core question behind for-profit education is this: What distributes opportunity? It’s not governments or nonprofits; it’s businesses. And that isn’t about to change.
Profiting Through Positivity
The idea that profit and positive change are incompatible is simply false. Companies have been operating with a triple bottom line — that idea that people, planet, and profit can and should benefit together — for at least a quarter century.
Many of the best hospitals and universities in the country are for-profit. Self-driving cars promise to curb one of the nation’s leading causes of death. Edtech startups fill gaps with tutoring and online learning when schools fall short.
Don’t let anyone tell you that your business idea is a bad one because it helps other people. Better yet, show them the truth: Start something world-changing, and grow it into a profitable, sustainable company.