Is Business the Place where Social Impact Happens Most? Ashoka Fellow Ben Powell Thinks So

My interest in entrepreneurship as a tool for development began after I started a miniature golf business in Puebla Mexico. I learned a lot about business by launching that venture, but what surprised me most about the experience was how much I learned about the impact of business—about how it can improve lives.

As I was growing up, I never thought much about business as a place where social impact happened. But that is precisely where it happens most.

After seeing one of my team members, Maribel, get a loan to buy a small apartment for herself and her daughter—to see that sense of independence and confidence on her face—I knew that something powerful was happening.

She didn’t have credit history before she worked for us. She didn’t have a bank account or a steady job. That one job changed everything for her. I guess it did for me too.

That experience led me to start Agora Partnerships with Ricardo Teran, an entrepreneur from Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. We wanted to build an organization to support and celebrate early stage entrepreneurs that were operating in difficult business environments and focusing on creating value for the common good.

Today, we are building a global community of impact investors, early stage entrepreneurs, and partners that are focused on using business to solve our common challenges. The impact of the companies in our growing community never ceases to amaze me.

Entrepreneurs like Ben Sanzer-Bell, who is developing an entire bamboo industry in Nicaragua while building sustainable houses for extremely low-income populations in the RAAN part of that country; Maria Pacheco, who employs hundreds of women in rural Guatemala to make incredible bracelets and fashion accessories that people throughout the world want to buy; Chris and Will Huaghey, who are bringing world-class wood manufacturing to Honduras to create desperately needed jobs in the process.

All of these entrepreneurs, and many more across the world, are blazing a new path—a path that reconciles profits with impact. They are the new heroes of development—they put it all on the line to bring something entirely new into existence by sheer force of will.

And they, like you, can’t do it alone. The good news is that more and more people are understanding the incredible leverage of supporting small business development—a leverage that grows even greater when a company is designed and managed to create social impact for all of its key stakeholders.

This week I’ll post a few blogs about the theme of this contest: the power of small. I believe in the power of small. Specifically, I believe in giving more power and opportunity to small, helping accelerate small, and celebrating small.

Everything important that has ever happened started small—it started with an idea. Thanks for participating in this contest and being a part of the growing movement to make our planet more entrepreneurial.