Entrepreneur stresses the value of socially sound business
Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement hosts founder of B Lab, Bart Houlahan
September 28, 2012, 1:37 am·
Making profits is no longer the sole objective of business. Welcome to the stage of social entrepreneurship.
On Thursday, students and professors gathered in a Huntsman Hall classroom to listen to guest speaker Bart Houlahan talk about B Lab, a nonprofit organization that promotes social entrepreneurship in business. The Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement — or PennSEM — in conjunction with the Wharton Ethics Department, hosted the event as part of its annual Joel and Lois Coleman Social Impact Lecture Series. This lecture follows the Social Impact Talks last spring during which five professors gave 10-minute lectures on ethics in business.
The mission of B Lab is to harness the power of business to help others, B Lab co-founder Houlahan said. B Lab certifies companies as benefit corporations, or B Corps, verifying the company’s high standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. “We need to distinguish the difference between good business and good marketing,” Houlahan said.
B Lab accomplishes its mission through three different initiatives: certifying companies, drafting legislation and running the Global Impact Investing Rating System.During his lecture, Houlahan explained how certification as a B Corp helps shine a light on these companies, how creating new legislation removes current legal blockades and how running GIIRS, a social and environmental impact ratings system, helps infuse capital into these companies.
The lecture series is named after Joel Coleman, a 1952 Wharton graduate and a 1955 Law School graduate, and his wife Lois, who have generously sponsored this lecture series since 2002. The purpose of these lectures is to expose students to social entrepreneurship and the people involved in that field.
“What we find in terms of the impact is that it goes beyond information and education,” said Wharton senior Manasi Shah, the vice president of the events team at PennSEM. “There is a deeper impact in terms of people’s careers. A lot of people discover their passion through these events.”
Wharton freshman Toluwalase Jobi said she liked the event because the speaker was straightforward and “gave [her] the facts as they are.” She also described him as insightful and motivational. Before founding B Lab, Houlahan served as president of AND1, a basketball apparel and shoe company. “Working for AND1 before B Lab gave him a different perspective,” she said.
“This is an important message at Wharton,” professor Nien-he Hsieh in the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department said. “B Lab is trying to harness business and capital. They’re not just about certifying the organizations. B Lab is really thinking seriously about driving capital to these companies.”
Karina Sengupta, a College and Wharton senior and president of PennSEM, agreed with Shah. Noticing the line of students waiting to talk to Houlahan after the lecture had ended, she said, “Most people who came are really engaged and, for me, that’s what matters a lot.”
Shah is optimistic that the enthusiasm for this event will continue through the rest of the year. “We would love to open up this experience to others … and maybe have [Houlahan] for a small coffee chat with a few interested students.”
Houlahan said if students could only take away one thing from the talk, it would be that they have the choice of where they can work. “You are the leaders of the next generation — exercise that leadership with a great degree of thought,” he said.
He also hoped that his lecture and his story will inspire students to become entrepreneurs. “We are creating a new model for inspiring entrepreneurs who are using business to solve social problems.”