Home All What Good is Business? Positive Psychology & Social Entrepreneurship

What Good is Business? Positive Psychology & Social Entrepreneurship

written by Giselle Nicholson 13 April 2007

Giselle Nicholson Timmerman, MAPP '06, has over nine years of experience working as a strategy consultant and leadership coach in the Americas, Europe, and Middle East. Giselle has pioneered the application of positive psychology to strategy, leadership, and organizations. She has seen the field develop firsthand and is fortunate to collaborate with the very best practitioners in the world via her collaborative consultant network, Positive Work. Giselle serves as President-elect of the Work Division for the International Positive Psychology Association. Full bio. Giselle's articles are here.

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship was perhaps the most thrilling conference I’ve ever attended. This global conference brings passionate people together from all corners of the globe, such as Mohammad Yunus, Al Gore, and Robert Redford, for the sole purpose of discussing business’s responsibility regarding positive social change. I’d like to introduce this forum to this blog in hopes that it will entice us to all keep thinking about how unique, socially conscious business strategies can improve the well-being of all global citizens.

The forum stands on the platform that the 21st century has the prospect of coupling wealth with well-being, and bringing to the fore the people and processes by which we can sustain social resilience. A social entrepreneur is defined by the Skoll Foundation as “society’s change agent: pioneer of innovations that benefit humanity.” The theories and empirical research of positive psychology are ideal tools for the social entrepreneurs that aim to measure their mark on humanity. There are three issues that came up at the forum, which I think are particularly relevant to positive psychology: public policy/government, sustainability, and the triple bottom line.

Many of the topics at the forum center around what roles government and public policy play in the well-being of citizens. For instance, many see social justice as disembedded from economics and believe our methods of leveling the playing field aren’t working as they should (e.g. Katrina). The inequality of opportunity and of outcomes calls for businesses to address those who aren’t gaining from globalization and aren’t being recognized in a meaningful way. Big businesses are realizing that there’s business to be found in eliminating poverty and recognizing environmental issues, rather than treating the earth like it’s a business in liquidation. Barry Schwartz recently wrote an exceptional reaction article on why societies should take seriously the pursuit of happiness. More about this issue can be learned at www.socialedge.org, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Business for Social Responsibility, and the Business as an Agent of World Benefit Forum.

Triple Bottom Line

The triple bottom line is a term coined by John Elkington, a man I had the pleasure of speaking with at the forum, to describe how organizations can and should focus on not only the financial bottom line, but also on the social and environmental value added. Broadly speaking, positive psychology can be used to direct and measure those positive practices that are geared towards well-being within organizations. While its application is still in its infancy, it’s inevitable that positive psychology will have a lot to say about how organizations can best approach matters concerning well-being. Sustainable organizational practices are another focus of the forum and the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan is a good resource for these business applications of positive psychology.

At every conference we hope to learn something new and to meet interesting people. At the Skoll Forum you know you’re a part of something big and you can’t help but be inspired by the passion that surrounds you. If you’re interested in watching the 2007 forum you can do so at www.skollfoundation.org.

Here are some of the featured speakers from the 2006 Skoll World Forum:

– Melissa Berman, President & CEO, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
– Matthew Bishop, American Editor, The Economist
– David Blood, Managing Partner, Generation Investment Management LLP
– Gordon Bloom, Director, Social Entrepreneurship Collaboratory, Harvard University
– Louis Boorstin, Gates Foundation
– Sir Ronald Cohen, Chair, UK Social Investment Taskforce, Chair, Commission on Unclaimed Assets, Chairman, Bridges Community Ventures
– Bill Drayton, CEO & Chair, Ashoka
– Jack Eberts, Chairman of National Geographic Feature Films
– John Elkington, Founder & Chief Entrepreneur, SustainAbility
– Moritz Flockenhaus, Head of Research, UnLtd
– William Fulbright Foote, Founding President & Executive Director, Ecologic Finance
– Michele Giddens, Bridges Community Ventures
– Celso Grecco, President, Atitude
– Ian Goldin, VP, World Bank and author of Globalization for Development
– Al Gore, Chairman, Generation Investment Management LLP
– Rob Grzywinski, Co-founder, ShoreBank Corporation
– Victoria Hale, CEO, Institute for OneWorld Health
– Mo Ibrahim, Chair of CelTel International
– Sir Ben Kingsley
– John Kingston, Venturesome
– Maximilian Martin, Head of Philanthropy Services, UBS
– Geoff Mulgan, Director, The Young Foundation
– Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO, Acumen Fund
– Sheela Patel, Director, SPARC
– Iqbal Paroo, President & COO, Omidyar Network
– Jan Piercy, former VP at the World Bank and advisor to Shorebank and ShoreCap International
– Joshua Ramo, Managing Director, Kissinger Associates
– Robert Redford
– Bunker Roy, Founder & Director, Barefoot College
– Jeff Skoll, Founder & Chairman, Skoll Foundation, and Founder & CEO, Participant Productions
– Karen Tse, President & CEO, International Bridges to Justice
– James Vaccaro, Commerical Manager, Triodos Bank
– Peter Wheeler, Chair, Futurebuilders
– Glenn Yago, Director, Capital Studies, Milken Institute
– Mohammad Yunus, Founder, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2006

Image: Elkington.

Giselle Nicholson Giselle Nicholson, MAPP ’06, writes on the 13th of each month, and her past articles are here.

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David J. Pollay 15 April 2007 - 12:04 am

Hi Giselle,

Thank you for keeping our work connected to the greater world community in which we live.

Giselle, I found this line particularly powerful in your article, “Big businesses are realizing that there’s business to be found in eliminating poverty and recognizing environmental issues, rather than treating the earth like it’s a business in liquidation.” You make such an important point. I hope everyone’s listening.

Thanks for the good work you’re doing Gigi.

Warm Regards,


Margaret 15 April 2007 - 7:39 am

Giselle – I love the notion of the “triple bottom line”. With all the media attention on the corrupt, negative side of business, it’s refreshing to stretch our view of how corporations can be a positive influence on society. Young, smart, compassionate people like YOU give me hope for the future! Warm regards, Margaret

Senia 15 April 2007 - 3:39 pm

I second Margaret’s comment. The Triple Bottom Line is very interesting. And it’s wonderful when a leader voluntarily wants to go in this direction. That’s the beneit of private organizations – you can influence a whole LOT when you’re leading an organization and choosing which directions are important to you. Thanks for the summary!


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