Q. Why would they be attracted to this kind of business?
A. During their working years, people generally are engaged in a rat race, chasing success. In old age, the rat race is over. People have created their financial base. They may feel that this is the time to devote themselves totally to the benefit of others in the society. They can use their wealth to do something sustainable, which will remain beyond their lives. Social business provides that framework.
Q. What qualities could older people bring?
A. Most old people are physically and mentally capable. They have good ideas, creative energy and plenty of unrestricted time. They can create social businesses to prove to themselves they can significantly contribute to the society rather than feeling like “unwanted” people. The best quality is their experience. After all, they have gone through their life. They have seen many things that the new generation has not seen yet, or may never see.
Q. What rewards might they enjoy?
A. When a person is retired, he or she is a free person, not bound by the rigid framework of working life. He can bring out the things that he has been holding inside him all these years. That’s a tremendous freedom! He can set his agenda, his priorities, his working hours, everything. He can form a group of like-minded people. Technology helps: Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms, Skype and so forth.
Q. Since poverty is so much deeper elsewhere in the world, should Americans focus on social problems abroad rather than in their own country?
A. The best way to start is to start in one’s own neighborhood. You don’t have to jump off to another place that you know very little about.
Q. For instance?
A. You can start a social business whose objective would be to take 10 people out of welfare by offering them employment. This is one issue everybody is interested in. If you can find the solution for it in a sustainable business way, you would be a hero for the whole world!
Q. Why can’t normal businesses do this?
A. Conventional profit-making businesses do not come forward to start a business unless they have at least a 30 percent return on their investment. But a social-business investor can operate anywhere, as long as there is a positive return. As long as you cover your costs and solve a social problem, you can be in social business.
Q. Can social business flourish in America without some effort first being made to teach people to care less about themselves and more about their society?
A. Whether I am an American or I am a Bangladeshi, we all have the same basic human qualities. When I talk about selflessness, I’m talking about the selflessness that is embedded in all human beings. You may argue that Americans have successfully locked it up inside. All we have to do is to find a way to unlock it.
Q. What is that way?
A. When I see you are helping five people get out of welfare, suddenly I am thinking, hey, I could have done that, too. So demonstration is one thing that can start loosening that lock.
Q. What else?
A. We can also start in childhood, by putting social business stories in storybooks, textbooks and other teaching materials. Let everybody know that there are two kinds of businesses: a business to make money for oneself, and then there is a business to make an impact on other people’s lives. A child may start to think, I like that idea of social business. I would like to do something like that.