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The Importance of Social Entrepreneurship

Jeff Church, CEO and founder of Nika Water, visited SDSU to speak about the growing business of social entrepreneurship.
From left: Jeff Church, Nika Water co-founder; Alex DeNoble, Lavin Center director; L. Robert Payne, CEO of Multi-Ventures Inc.
From left: Jeff Church, Nika Water co-founder; Alex DeNoble, Lavin Center director; L. Robert Payne, CEO of Multi-Ventures Inc.

The phenomenon of social entrepreneurship is on the rise, and although consumers support it, many don't understand the profit model of companies in this sector.

Jeff Church, CEO and co-founder of Nika Water, gave students, faculty and member of the public a behind-the-scenes look at social entrepreneurship as part of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center’s L. Robert Payne Lecture Series.

A hand-up, not a handout

Church pointed out that while most people have used products from companies built on a social entrepreneurial foundation, such as Newman’s Own, TOMS Shoes and Ben & Jerry’s, many don’t understand that this type of organization is a cross between a for-profit and a non-profit.

For example, most of these organizations donate all or part their after-tax profits to a specific cause or charity. In the case of Nika Water, the profits from their bottled water are donated to various organizations bringing clean water to residents of developing nations and planting trees.

“Social entrepreneurship is meant to act as a hand-up, not a handout,” said Church, who provided statistics to show that as charity in some developing countries increased, their gross domestic product (GDP) decreased.

Growing trend

This growing social entrepreneurship movement has found a home in the College of Business Administration’s management department.

Instructor Mike Sloan lectures about the subject in his classes and runs his own social venture, Kalma Organics.

Management professors Chamu Sundramurthy and Congcong Zheng have published academic research on the subject.

“Social entrepreneurship has grown substantially over the past 10 years and is proving to be valuable to underserved populations, consumers and the entrepreneurs themselves,” said Zheng. “More and more, businesses not only provide goods, services and employment opportunities, but also inspire and herald social improvements.”

Multitude of products

Both Church and the SDSU faculty agree that the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship is on the rise. Companies founded on this principle are selling everything from sunglasses to high quality rugs in order to improve healthcare, education and the living conditions in countries throughout the world.

According to its website, Nika has helped more than 55,000 people attain access to clean drinking water.

“The Nika Water philanthropic business model is proof that substantial social impact can result from a market-driven enterprise, even in a highly competitive product category such as bottled water,” said Sloan.

Some of the rules outlined by Church for founding a successful social entrepreneurship company include:

  • Find like-minded people to work with you.
  • Make sure you have a good product.
  • Don’t quit, even when it seems like the obvious thing to do.


Starting in fall 2013, students interested in social entrepreneurship can take related coursework to obtain an entrepreneurship minor.

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