The spiritual entrepreneur – or how to make money while working with purpose

When I was 12 years old, my father became the CEO of the Belgian branch of a U.S. company listed on...

When I was 12 years old, my father became the CEO of the Belgian branch of a U.S. company listed on the American Stock Exchange. We’re talking 1987, the year Madonna revolutionized the music industry with the hit song “Who’s That Girl”, and by doing so made millions of us want to go and see the movie with the same title, too.

While I was enjoying that pretty harmless tune on my Walkman – for those of you born after 1990, that’s a portable cassette-tape player – one of the first things my father had to do as the brand new CEO of that company was to lay off quite a lot of people. I remember it (almost) as if it was yesterday, despite my young age. Although I can’t recall how we ended up talking about the lay-offs, I do remember a specific conversation we had about it. In that conversation, my father tried to explain the principles of business to me – that is, the obligations of CEOs of companies owned by shareholders, and the pressure that comes from an ever-growing need to make more financial profit. I remember not understanding. So, when my father told me that he needed to lay off people because the company wasn’t making enough money, I asked him if the company needed money – to which he said no, the shareholders just wanted more. That’s when I thought I’d found the solution, and told my father to simply tell everyone that they had enough already. And to share the money evenly among everyone, so nobody needed to be laid off.

Of course, this is not how things unfolded. My father laid off people when he started working at that company, and did so many times after that. Until, finally, he was laid off, too. Many years later, when he had given his all to that company, and done so many things that didn’t align with his personal values.

And this misalignment between values and business is precisely what I want to talk about with you today.

We live in a world that is ever changing, and where new opportunities emerge alongside new knowledge of how things can be done, including business. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s talk inspiring millions to Start With Why, but if you haven’t, I invite you to do so to understand how working with purpose can help change the way we do things in business, and in life, too. And although this talk is not specifically about doing good, or upholding specific humanistic values when it comes to business, I believe the mechanics are the same.

And they are important. Because this focus on purpose is allowing a new kind of entrepreneurs to emerge from the masses.

Often, they are called social entrepreneurs, but I’ve seen mentions of do-gooders, bottom-liners (I kind of like this one), and disrupters of the status quo, as well as, even, change sustainers (this one’s not bad, either). Now, overall, I think labels are kind of limiting, and in this case I find that ‘social entrepreneur’ is a difficult one to deal with. It sounds as if anyone who is not a social entrepreneur is in business solely for personal gain or profit.

OK, I’ll admit, that’s probably the case for a great deal of corporations, but I don’t believe it’s the case for the solopreneur (there, another label) or for the freelancers and small business owners among us.

That’s why I prefer the idea of spiritual entrepreneur, and I define this as being in business for more than personal gain or profit, answering to something that is greater than ourselves, and upholding spiritual values that we believe in. In short, having a mission of doing good through business. Or better yet, making the world a better place while making money – aka the double bottom-line.

Now, the point of all this is that we can all – and I mean everyone – become do-good entrepreneurs, running spiritual businesses. You don’t have to have spent years in an Ashram in India to do this, or meditate three times a day, or be a vegetarian (although that might be good for the planet, too!). Whatever your business, whatever your background, whatever your beliefs, you can make a difference through your business. The only thing a do-good business is, is a business where the bottom-line is not only measured in terms of financial profit, but also in terms of social and environmental benefits.

So, here are 3 simple ways to get started:

  1. Start with why

Being in business for the money alone is not very satisfying in many cases. At first, it might feel good to make money, and to create your own future and sense of freedom, but after a while, you might start to feel something is missing. If this is your case, why not go back to the drawing boards, figure out what your why is, and rethink your business from there.

  1. Define what your core values are, and infuse your business with them.

Imagine that respect for and the wellbeing of your employees is part of your core values. If that’s the case, think of ways to make sure that those values become part of how you do business. Perhaps by asking your employees regularly how they’re doing, or by making sure that every voice is heard, or even by making a week or two a year off mandatory – and paid – for the entire staff, so everyone can enjoy time with their family and friends, away from work.

  1. Assess the impact that your business currently has on the world, and see where you can make improvements.

Questions you can ask yourself to assess the environmental and social impact of your business include: How much waste are we producing? How much good are we doing in the community? Are we giving back? Are our products or services helping the world or harming it? Whatever the answers to these questions, there is always something more you can do. Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t stress over everything at once. Just think of one thing that you could change, to make the world a better place. Then do it.

I hope this post has inspired you to look at your business and the impact that you can have on the world differently. I believe that we can all make a difference – and that we should. What do you think?

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