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Reinventing Charity?

There is no denying that I solidly belong to the group referred to as Millenials, though I prefer the term Generation Y. Like most generations as they come of age, there is a lot of speculation from our elders and the media on what’s wrong with us. I’ve read a multitude of articles outlining how my peers and I are selfish, entitled, and caught in a state of arrested development.  A lot of that is true.

But, while there is truth to the negative traits of us 20-somethings, we have our redeeming qualities as well. We’re incredibly collaborative, unwaveringly optimistic, and have had more education/access to information than any generation before us.

I rolled my eyes when I read another headline that started with “Millenials…” preparing myself to hear another middle-aged author bemoaning the lack of work ethic amongst my age group, and telling us we have to pay our dues, but when I saw that the rest of the article title read “will reinvent charity,” I was intrigued.

When we incorporated Thread as an LLC, it was a very deliberate choice after months of planning, and discussion, and meetings with lawyers and business advisors. We wanted to create a self-sustaining organization, that provided dignified and exciting jobs, and that used trash in developing countries as the resource to do so. We chose not to become another non profit in Haiti on purpose. And we chose to face the hurdles surrounding finding investment as a start up operating in Haiti, because we believe that in order for countries to truly gain economic independence, they need a functioning and flourishing private sector. Thread wants to contribute to that sector in Haiti. We also want to leave the people we work with and our planet in better shape as a result of our business, so we have a social and environmental mission. We have asked our lawyers to write provisions into our operating agreement that prohibit us from making decisions based solely on their financial impact. We are a triple bottom line company through and through. But, we are structured as a for-profit business.

This means that we cannot seek much traditional support from foundations, as we’re not a 501c3. We cannot accept small loans from our family and friends, only investment from accredited investors – though this policy may be changing, which is very exciting. We could do something like a kick starter campaign, but those are designated for specific projects with finished products, and not for general business operations.

It’s been a frustrating process; researching exactly what kind of grants and funding we are eligible for, while trying to convince traditional private investors that despite operating in Haiti we are not too risky of an investment, or working with business incubators to figure out where exactly we fit in to their funding structures as a social-business and not a traditional tech startup.

The article makes some great points as to the legal barriers to investment in small and social business in our country. As Thread and our peers in social business continue to blur the line between non-profit and business, it only stands to reason that the rules surrounding funding of these ideas and organizations should change too.  We believe in capitalism, we believe in responsibility for our employees, and our planet, and our customers. These are not novel or new ideas, however for them to succeed on a large scale we need new and novel ways to invest in them.

 

 

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