By Kevin Xu
If you’re a successful entrepreneur, you’ve probably felt a pull toward philanthropy. According to a 2010 study, 89 percent of entrepreneurs donate money to charitable causes; 70 percent donate their time; and 61 percent believe they are more inclined to give to charity because they are entrepreneurs.
There’s no doubt philanthropy and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. An entrepreneur’s drive to pursue a dream is the same force that leads to giving back. By helping others, entrepreneurs generate good feelings that help them overcome daily struggles, and they get a sense of personal fulfillment.
But even if you feel compelled to give back, you might not know the best way to help. Or, if you currently donate your money or your time, you probably worry you’re not doing enough. After all, the world is a big place with a host of problems that need attention.
Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, are responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in the United States, and 805 million people in the world aren’t getting the minimum amount of food required to lead a healthy, active life.
Contributing directly to help tackle these problems is one solution. But entrepreneurs are helping in other ways, too.
For one thing, entrepreneurs are accelerating the commercialization of new technologies that will help solve the world’s problems. For example, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla recently announced it would open-source to encourage others to use its patents in an effort to combat the carbon crisis with zero-emissions vehicles.
In addition, the very spirit of entrepreneurship — determination, creativity and optimism — is instrumental in inspiring others to act. And entrepreneurs are prone to disrupting traditional industries, generating new ideas and unlocking innovations that will help the world.
These are all passive ways you’re probably already making an impact, but you can do more by taking an active approach. Donating food or money is admirable, but those efforts only provide temporary relief — not a long-term solution. The world needs cures for disease and programs to educate people on techniques for creating new food sources.
Here are three ways you can use your unique position to improve quality of life for others:
1. Invest in new technologies. Become a charitable investor for new technologies that benefit others. You can take an active role in investing in charities that support innovation and development by using ImpactAssets. For example, Seth Goldman of Honest Tea uses this method to generate funding for Beyond Meat, CSA Medical and Sweetgreen.
2. Share your story. Help others become entrepreneurial philanthropists by becoming a mentor and sharing your story via social networks. Your testimony can inspire others to launch their own ideas and create more opportunities to support social good. Seal-Bin Han, co-founder and president of the World Youth Initiative, helps students launch philanthropic projects by providing them with the tools to succeed.
3. Recruit others to your cause. If you run a successful business, you’ve probably developed ties to some powerful people. When looking to champion a cause, use your network connections to gain momentum. For instance, my family created the Brighten Award for Entrepreneurial Gerontology at the University of Southern California, Davis School of Gerontology. This award supports students who demonstrate entrepreneurship and aim to incorporate elder-friendly elements into their ideas.
In “Understanding Social Entrepreneurship: The Relentless Pursuit of Mission in an Ever Changing World,” authors Jill Kickul and Thomas Lyons write: “In business entrepreneurship, every investor in an enterprise expects a return on investment … The same should be true for social investments; they should ‘pay off’ by producing social gains that exceed the value of the initial investment.”
However, as Kickul and Lyons point out, social ROI cannot always be measured in dollars. Improving quality of life will certainly help others and give you a deeper perspective, but there are other significant benefits to philanthropic endeavors. You’ll gain positive feedback from society and access to new ideas you’d never have otherwise. But perhaps most importantly, you’ll provide hope and inspiration to other like-minded people who have the power to help.
How can you use your connections, resources, and entrepreneurial drive to make a difference in the world and improve quality of life for others?
Image credit: Flickr/Alex Barth
Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix, which specializes in skin organ regeneration and the research and development of botanical drug products. Skingenix is listed in the 2014 Empact100 Showcase.