By Pro­fes­sor Den­nis Shaughnessy 

In speaking with college students every day around campus, I’m always so impressed by the many passionate young people who are deeply interested in issues of social and economic justice.  Many of these committed young people are also very frustrated by the absence of accessible opportunities to advance their ideas into meaningful action.

In this context, I was keenly interested in Alicia Keys and her new initiative called the ‘We Are Here‘ movement.

Would Ms. Keys be just another celebrity who takes on a cause in the moment, but doesn’t stay with it for the long haul?  A recent column in The New York Times by Nick Kristof, a guest speaker at Northeastern/Social Enterprise Institute (SEI) last spring, captured Alicia Keys story and the hope it brings for innovative solutions to the problems of global poverty, illiteracy, female empowerment and child health. 

I’ve long admired Alicia Keys, not so much for her music (which sadly I’m largely unfamiliar), but for her engagement and advocacy on social issues. She has been a clear and compelling voice for children left behind in places like South Africa, and for quite some time.  She has made moving videos of her project work that have clearly impacted university students to consider becoming advocates for children, for education, for peace and for equal opportunity.  Her most recent effort with the We Are Here movement includes a personal donation of $1 million to 12 organizations to get this new movement started.

Ms. Keys says the goal of her new We Are Here movement is to “build an army of fans who want to make the world a better place”.  The organizations she specifically endorses and encourages others to consider for donation include non-profits our students study as part of the exploration of the emerging social enterprise space, including Partners in Health and Girl Rising. Some deserving non-profits not on her list include Room to Read and BuildOn, which are each world-class organizations founded by former business leaders making a meaningful and sustainable impact in global child literacy.

The next big step we can hope for is the inclusion of some of the leading for profit or leveraged non-profit social enterprises, or “social businesses” in celebrity and other advocacy campaigns.  In including the new social enterprises, Alicia Keys and others like her can both give to create a better world but also invest to build a more equal, peaceful and prosperous world.

An increasing awareness of new business models to address development and social justice issues is needed to fully and sustainably address many of the world’s most pressing problems.  These impact or mission-driven social businesses (including many certified B corps) can also make a difference in making the world a better place, from Aakar Innovations in women’s empowerment to Better World Books and Bridge International Academies for education and literacy, to Revolution Foods in healthy good for children.  Leveraged non-profits which secure their financial sustainability through income generating activities, or IGAs, should also be on the list, such as Root Capital in agricultural development and Learn to Earn South Africa in livelihood training and development.

So, in the future when we think of how we can each contribute to making the world a better place, as Alicia Keys eloquently encourages us to do, let’s include the new “social enterprises” on our “invest” list as powerful and sustainable forces for good.






Photo (cc) by Walmart and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.