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A World of Difference For these entrepreneurs, social responsibility is the essence of their businesses. Here's how they're changing the world for the better.

By April Y. Pennington

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

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

The role of businesses in civic responsibility-actively workingin communities for positive change-blows past charity donations andin-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 inrecent years, there are shining examples of those who work to buildsuccessful communities as well as successful businesses.

The most recent Cone Corporate Citizenship Study illustratesexactly how active a role Americans expect companies to play insociety. Of those surveyed, 78 percent felt companies had aresponsibility to support causes, and 84 percent said they decidewhich companies they want to see doing business in theircommunities based on companies' commitment to socialissues.

Whether businesses enact community programs out of genuineconcern isn't always clear, but there are benefits regardless,says Nancy Adcox, community relations chair of Raleigh, NorthCarolina's National Association of Women Business Ownerschapter and founder of motivational training firm Xanzia Inc. One majorbenefit of starting service programs is enhancing employee morale.Says Adcox, "Employees have the need to search for meaning intheir lives and to know they make a difference in theworld."

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

Something Good in Store

Kowalski's Markets, based in Woodbury, Minnesota,started in 1983 with the good values set forth by founders MaryAnne and Jim Kowalski. They built the business on the principles ofgreat customer service and plenty of community-minded gooddeeds-but they never instituted a written policy.

All that changed in 2000, when the Kowalskis got a call from PegMichels, co-author, with Massengale, of MACI's Civic OrganizingFramework, a set of principles, standards and strategies thatexplains how MACI works. Michels, who had previously worked withMary Anne in another civic/political organization, believedKowalski's Markets fit well with the ideals MACI was trying topromote. Mary Anne was interested in MACI's organized approachto what she and her husband, 59 and 58, respectively, had doneinformally in their business. Her interest led to the Kowalskis notonly collaborating with four other businesses on a MACI curriculumfor teaching civic leadership to business leaders, but also usingKowalski's Markets as the pilot for the curriculum.

Employees of Kowalski's Markets were introduced to theprinciples, standards, teachings and language of the MACIcurriculum in 2001. "We designed [a curriculum] we thoughtwould be practical and would work," says Mary Anne. "Canyou do this in business-be ethical, have integrity and thinkthrough things in a civic manner, know everything you do affectseverybody else?"

The Kowalskis had an opportunity to flex their civic muscle whenthey purchased four store locations in 2002. One of the stores waslocated in Minneapolis' Camden neighborhood, a lower- tomiddle-class community unlike their typical upscale customerdemographic. Rather than sell the property, the Kowalskis decidedthey had an obligation to provide a neighborhood grocery store tothat community since the former tenant had failed to do so, and thecivic experiment began.

The Kowalskis shared their vision of a community institution andtheir desire to create a neighborhood market during a Camdencommunity meeting. Though the store had already opened, theKowalskis offered residents of the neighborhood the power to nameit and spend all the store profits as they wished. The Kowalskispromised a clean, safe store with good lighting and security, andremoved cigarettes and lottery tickets from all their stores. Inthe spirt of partnership, the Kowalskis asked the community to showsupport by shopping there. The residents shocked the couple bystating they would rather have the store prosper and remain thantake any profits, and the residents felt using the Kowalski'sname would attract more stores and restaurants to the area.Pledging a three-year commitment, the couple promised that if theydecided to sell the store due to a lack of profits, they'd sellit only to someone who would keep the community at heart.

Members of the Camden community placed voter-style placards ontheir lawns and businesses urging others to "shop yourneighborhood grocer." While Kowalski's gives its usualsponsorships and donations to athletic teams and church groups inthe area, it's also active in community festivals and publishesa "recipe of the week" in the local paper. Though thelocation has cash flowing in, it hasn't yet been profitable.The other eight Kowalski's Markets have helped push projected2004 total sales to between $115 million and $125 million. However,the Kowalskis still see the Camden store as a success because ithas fostered a sense of community. City council member BarbaraJohnson says Kowalski's well-kept storefront has increased theattractiveness of the community. "It's considered anamenity. Realtors use it to promote homes, and it has definitelyincreased property values. It's been a great thing forus."

"[We wanted to see] if you can engage the rest of thecommunity to take a civic look at things," says Mary Anne,"and [show them] that citizenship takes the work of thepeople, not just businesses going in and saving the world. It takesthe customer, the individual, the citizen."

High-Tech Help

Some entrepreneurs are driven to build businesses helping othersdo good. While friends headed off to lucrative jobs during thedotcom heyday in 1999, UCLA students Ryan Ozimek, now 27, and GreyFrandsen, 26, were on a humanitarian relief trip to the Balkansduring the Kosovar wars. Witnessing firsthand the problems thenonprofit community faced due to a lack of technology, the paircombined Ozimek's technology and policy skills withFrandsen's international and nonprofit experience, and foundedPICnet Inc., atechnology consulting firm for nonprofits.

PICnet's goal is to empower the missions of nonprofitsthrough technology, by offering services including Web developmentand online application design. With offices in Washington, DC,where many nonprofits dwell, PICnet has aided organizations such asthe Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Relief International.

Frandsen (who's since left the company but remains on theboard of advisors) and Ozimek don't mind that they've takena different path than their peers. "Many of them [don't]get joy and passion out of their work on a day-to-day basis,"observes Ozimek. "If you've had any kind of success, youshould give back to help those who are less fortunate get to thesame level you're at."

Magic Carpet Ride

James Tufenkian decided at age 14 that his life's missionwas to make a difference in the world. He thought he could achievethat by going into law, but Tufenkian's short time with acarpet wholesaler before attending law school intrigued him enoughto toy with the idea of a carpet business. It wasn't until agraduation trip after finishing law school that he returned to theidea. After querying Kathmandu World Bank's Trade PromotionCenter for someone knowledgeable in carpet weaving, he met TsetanGyurman in Nepal, a skilled craftsman and weaver who had beenexiled from his homeland of Tibet. Equally impressed byGyurman's exquisite carpet creations as by his efforts toemploy street kids and Tibetan refugees in his textile business,Tufenkian, then in his early 30s, left a budding career in law. In1986, he started Tufenkian Carpets, with Gyurman in charge ofmanufacturing.

Troubled by the working conditions in Nepal, Tufenkian put asmuch emphasis on treating and paying employees fairly as onattracting good weavers who could perform at advanced levels ofcraftsmanship. He established his business philosophy, calledNecessarily Ethical Economic Development, or NEED, to set forth hisobjectives. Offering on-site housing, a profit-sharing program, anda medical complex serving employees and people in the area,Tufenkian also built a Montessori school for his employees'children, as well as a company water purification plant and wastetreatment facility. These many acts of benevolence were only thebeginning.

When Tufenkian saw the devastating effects of the fall of theSoviet Union, he resolved to help: "I sat in my expensiveapartment in New York [City], thinking 'How [can] I enjoy thebenefits of my business when Armenians have no electricity, notransport of goods?' It was impossible."

Visiting his ancestral homeland of Armenia in 1991, he broughtseveral Tibetan craftsmen and revived ancient Armenian carpetweaving through his business, which now employs more than 2,000people in Armenia and nearly 10,000 in Nepal. Tufenkian alsostarted the Tufenkian Foundation, with about 15 different programsto benefit Armenian society; Armenian Forests, a nongovernmentalorganization to stop deforestation; and Tufenkian Heritage Hotels,with three locations open so far, to drive tourism to Armenia.

His showrooms in Hackensack, New Jersey; Los Angeles; New YorkCity; and Portland, Oregon, display the fine works made by artisansin his facilities in Armenia and Nepal. Their work is sold in thevery high-end market, which Tufenkian says easily absorbs the costsassociated with the numerous programs and projects he supports.

Though his story is told in his company's catalog and on hisWeb site, the modest Tufenkian, now in his late 40s, shies awayfrom overblown publicity. "The people who find out are proudto participate by buying the product," he says. As for hisinvolvement, he declares, "It's made my life and workworthwhile." If entrepreneurs truly want to make a difference,they "have to make it a rule. This is part of mybusiness."

One Percent Inspiration

One percent may not sound like much, but to Marc Benioff, 39,founder of and co-author of CompassionateCapitalism: How Corporations Can Make Doing Good an Integral Partof Doing Well, it could equal much more. Urging othercorporations to adopt his integrated philanthropy model of a 1percent solution-donating 1 percent of the company'stime, equity and profits to help the people and communities thebusiness serves-he's used his own company as an gives employees six days a year of paid time tovolunteer and has used company profits to offer nonprofitorganizations its CRM product for free.

Benioff fully integrated the Foundation, a501(c)3 charity, into his business from the start. Full-timefoundation employees are found everywhere doessignificant business, offering underprivileged children access totechnology and media.

According to Benioff, the 1 percent solution can work for anybusiness. "We scaled our foundation symmetrically, because themodel dictates that the foundation grows parallel with thecompany," he says. "In today's world, you cannot be aleader in your industry without being a leader in yourcommunity."

Words From the Wise

Sometimes, getting involved with the community is just asrewarding for the entrepreneur as it is for the people she helps.Growing up, Michelle Rathman didn't have an easy life. Hermother abandoned her and her three sisters when Rathman was 4 yearsold. Rathman left her home and her abusive, alcoholic father andlived on the streets at a young age.

Now, as the owner of St. Charles, Illinois-based marketing/PRfirm Impact! Communications Inc., founded in 1989, Rathmanshares her story with inner-city youths. She provides insight andadvice in hopes of enabling them to make good choices.Rathman's challenges have continued; now she's divorced andraising two teenagers. Nevertheless, she was compelled in 2000 tolaunch the service end of her business, calling the work"philanthropreneurship." For every client sherepresents-many of them authors and speakers-she tries to create aprogram using her client's expertise that serves kids orcommunities in some way. "I had been through cancer [and] awhole bunch of life-changing experiences, and it's something inmy heart I'd wanted to do for a long time," says Rathman,37. "I just thought 'It's now or never.'"

One particularly powerful program is "How Do I LoveMe?" Geared toward fourth- to 12th-grade girls, this two-hourprogram is the marriage of her "philanthropreneurship"concept and an organization she had already created, called WiseWomen, made up of professional women who want to mentor girls.Rathman and a few Wise Women go into classrooms and teach girlswhat it means to love themselves-covering mind, body, spirit andstyle-with each area covered by an appropriate "wisewoman." Segments include 20 ways to boost self-esteem;nutrition and exercise; 10 things Rathman has learned; and afashion showcase of chic, age-appropriate clothing. Rathman has theschool principal choose four or five girls (often homeless) tomodel the clothes, and she surprises them by letting them keep theoutfits. Corporate sponsors pay for the clothing, but Rathmanself-funds the program otherwise.

Getting kids to open up is a major accomplishment. Rathmanrecalls the day one girl whispered in the ear of the Wise Womennutritionist. "I knew this tiny girl had an eating disorder,and she told [the nutritionist] she did. She also said her brotherdied of asthma and [she] had no father at home. These areimpoverished kids we're talking about."

Rathman hopes one day to build an online Wise Women network sogirls can e-mail their questions or concerns, but for now,she's doing it one classroom at a time. "All these littlegirls coming up to you, holding you and not wanting to let go-itjust melts my heart," she says.

Rathman has also created a program about what it means to servevs. being self-serving, and another about the value of money. Sinceno one is paid to participate in these programs, Rathman recruitsindividuals she has met through business and personal avenues to bevolunteers. She has also found clients are eager to participate inher civic endeavors. "I've found the people we work withwant to serve. They just don't know how to get started. We canbecome a conduit to get something formulated for them and book themin the schools."

Though she has offered the programs strictly in the Chicagopublic school system, Rathman hopes to eventually go nationwide.Running her company, which has 2004 projected sales of $600,000, isa full-time job, but Rathman doesn't mind stretching herselfthin to devote herself to both sides of the business. "Now Iget it. I know why I'm still doing this work-so I can do thisother thing I really want to do at the end of the day," saysRathman. "It's great to earn money, but bottom line,we're here to serve."

Take the First Step

These entrepreneurs have shown that from startup towell-established ventures, it's never too late to becomecivically responsible. If you want to make a positive change inyour business and your community, Massengale advises, "thefirst step is to recognize you have power, influence, time andresources."

Identifying your resources will help you figure out how you canleverage them to do some good. First, ask yourself whether you areacting in a way that is civically responsible within your company,providing employees with livable wages and enacting policies thatimprove the quality of life there. Then, see what you can do tohelp your community. Massengale suggests collaborating with otherbusinesses and organizations to make it happen. "It's anew way to conceive and carry out business, because it suggestspartnerships with the folks that live in your business'scommunity. And what you do now can have a positive long-term effecton yourself, your business and everyone you touch with yourefforts."

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