Entrepreneurship Speaker Argues for New Model to Fight Social Problems

David BatstoneThe James Durbin Entrepreneurship Speaker Series for the 2013–2014 academic year kicked off with a discussion on social entrepreneurship featuring David Batstone. Batstone is the cofounder and president of Not for Sale, the largest international organization dedicated to the eradication of human trafficking. The organization is working to change the underlying factors that lead to enslaved communities by developing business and social enterprises benefiting the most vulnerable.

“I think most entrepreneurship gets born out of a burning passion to find a solution to a problem,” Batstone said as he explained the development of Not for Sale. “My competitor (the human trafficking industry) has an annual revenue more than Google, Microsoft, and Nike put together—$32 billion a year. They are able to deploy 30 million people (as slave laborers) everyday to make that revenue, and they don’t pay them any real wage.”

On the other side, organizations fighting human trafficking have a budget of only $100 million a year.

“And the people that work for these organizations feel like they might be slaves—underpaid, overworked, stressed, and continually having to find a way to raise their own funds. Something is wrong with that picture,” he said. “Who’s going to win that game? I can tell you, as someone who came out of the world of investment banking and equity, I knew who was going to win. You can’t compete against a $32 billion industry when you are facing those odds.”

Batstone concluded that the model by which social problems are fought needed to be reinvented. His strategy was to build a business that would be profitable and have measureable social impacts. Gathering 50 entrepreneurs and business leaders, including the founder of Twitter and the owner of American Apparel, Not for Sale held a forum to develop an enterprise that would help curb the flow of human trafficking from the Peruvian Amazon to major Latin American cities. The result was REBBL, an organic tea with ingredients sourced from the Peruvian Amazon, that is now sold in organic grocery stores in California and will be distributed around the country next year.

Not only does REBBL create jobs for people in the Peruvian Amazon, 25 percent of investors’ returns and 2.5 percent of gross revenue are invested back in the community. REBBL has now expanded to sell teas sourced from and supporting communities in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, and the company has plans to create a Libyan tea.  Not for Sale has also formed Squarebar, a company that sells organic protein bars, and other companies that generate revenue for vulnerable communities.

“That’s why I believe that social entrepreneurship is a channel, it’s an avenue, for reinventing charity and philanthropy, and actually solving social problems,” he said.

Batstone is the author of five books and the recipient of two national journalist awards. He was named National Endowment for the Humanities Chair at the University of San Francisco for his work in technology and ethics. He is currently a professor in the School of Management at the University of San Francisco.

The next guest in this year’s speaker series is Torkin Wakefield. She is a social activist and has cofounded several organizations to support the poor or marginalized, including Wellspring, The World Sits Down to Dinner, and BeadforLife. Join the conversation on November 13, 4:30 p.m. at the Valley Center for Performing Arts.

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