Karma is Not Dead

Can social entrepreneurship restore consumers' tattered faith in financial justice?


If you believe the sentiments of betrayal that spurned millions of Americans away from “too big to fail” financial institutions and their main street counterparts is history, filmmaker Charles Ferguson invites you to reconsider with his recent piece for Newsweek. The article summarizes Ferguson's frustration with large corporations and highlights actions he believes violated consumer trust and moral expectations.

But ethical business models, centered on a common good, do exist and many such organizations are already working to renew consumers' trust. In a Q & A piece for Harvard Business School, author Sean Silverthorne says 1.5 million non-profits and social ventures in the United States had combined revenues of around $700 billion and controlled assets worth $2 trillion in 2008. But, according to Professor Jane Wei-Skillern, while non-profits have gained real financial power, many are still lacking a vibrant, entrepreneurial approach that makes them effective and relevant.

Credit unions are an archetype for the success this model can achieve when applied to financial services. The spirit of cooperation and social entrepreneurship is already present- the next step is improving how credit unions share these accomplishments with the world.

If you want to refresh your institution’s entrepreneurial streak, find the rallying points (the schools, local families in need, animal shelters, etc.) that inspire and impassion your employees, boards, and communities. An institution’s passion is communicable, and your membership may also be convinced to take up the torch if given the tools and resources to do so.

As Peter Day of BBC indicates, “In the 21st century it may be time for something new.” Later he continues, “But we need dozens, no hundreds, more social entrepreneurs to change the way everything is done: to spot a gap in the social marketplace and fill it, with a motive other than profit.”

The nation is facing a rising demand for businesses that achieve success without sacrificing the moral high ground. Credit unions have ample supply.