A World of Difference

For these entrepreneurs, social responsibility isn't just part of their PR campaigns--it's the essence of their businesses. And they're changing the world for the better, one community at a time.

"I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." -Socrates

Though Socrates expressed this idea more than 2,000 years ago, his words offer a glimpse into the future, where our global village is pulled tightly together through technology. But in creating a prosperous planet, one commodity has remained abundant: humanity. With the socioeconomic and political climate turbulent and in need of helping hands beyond appointed leaders, civic responsibility has now been embraced not only by individuals, but also by businesses.

The role of businesses in civic responsibility-actively working in communities for positive change-blows past charity donations and in-house recycling programs as businesses take an aggressive, hands-on approach to making change happen in their communities. Despite the tarnished image some business leaders have sustained in recent years, there are shining examples of those who work to build successful communities as well as successful businesses.

The most recent Cone Corporate Citizenship Study illustrates exactly how active a role Americans expect companies to play in society. Of those surveyed, 78 percent felt companies had a responsibility to support causes, and 84 percent said they decide which companies they want to see doing business in their communities based on companies' commitment to social issues.

Whether businesses enact community programs out of genuine concern isn't always clear, but there are benefits regardless, says Nancy Adcox, community relations chair of Raleigh, North Carolina's National Association of Women Business Owners chapter and founder of motivational training firm Xanzia Inc. One major benefit of starting service programs is enhancing employee morale. Says Adcox, "Employees have the need to search for meaning in their lives and to know they make a difference in the world."

Tony Massengale, director of the Center for Civic & Community Capacity Building in Pasadena, California, focuses on teaching civic standards and political competency to government/public agencies, philanthropic foundations and a broad spectrum of nonprofit groups. He has joined forces with civic business project Minnesota Active Citizenship Initiative (MACI) to promote civic organizing to all citizens and organizations as an approach for civic renewal. "Everyone has to ask themselves, What can we do to improve the quality of life for those on the margins?" he says. Massengale has found young entrepreneurs in particular to be sincere and enthusiastic about being civically responsible. But it's not just startups taking strides-the desire to have a profitable venture and help communities is widespread, regardless of what stage the business is at.

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This article was originally published in the October 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A World of Difference.

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