Why This Surprising City Is a Great Place for Social Impact Entrepreneurs

May 24, 2016, 2:00 PM UTC
Dallas Tx skyline
Photograph by Dan Huntley Getty Images/Moment RF

This piece originally appeared on Millennial.

Move over Austin, Dallas has officially cemented itself as the renaissance city of Texas. Home to over 41,000 regional headquarters and 20 of the top Fortune 500 companies, Dallas is quickly becoming a relocation hotspot for millennials who are transforming the city to reflect their values.

With this migration of socially conscious individuals moving into North Texas, Dallas is seizing an opportunity to unlock the potential for catalytic change. Recognizing the need for profit and purpose to merge, the city has taken initiative to become the national hub for social and sustainable enterprise, rebranding itself “The Impact City.”

Leading the charge is Dallas based social investment firm, Good Returns. The company is forming a new model for corporate social responsibility, using corporate profit to provide a hand up instead of a hand out to those in need. Forming a relatively novel business concept, Good Returns has been testing this social investment strategy for the last few years with their organic home and beauty eCommerce retail platform, Soap Hope.

Setting the Tone for a New Business Culture

The foundation of Good Returns’ philosophy is evident in the profit model of Soap Hope. Good Returns CEO and Soap Hope founder, Sal Boukadoum tells MiLLENNiAL, the company’s profits act as micro-finance loans for impoverished women interested in starting their own business. Good Returns becomes the investment arm that facilitates profits to organizations around the world that puts the money to “good use” during a finite time period, ensuring the profit returns to the company once the term is up.

“[The women] borrow money for one year – interest free – and then they return it to us a year later,” he says, insisting the model is not a donation, but an integral part of Soap Hope’s business cycle. “We don’t have to give up anything, we just have to wait one extra year before our investors can take their dollars home.” His goal is to make this a model Dallas and its corporate inhabitants can claim as its own, empowering and enriching the lives of those that need it most.

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The Global Impact of Soap Hope

Soap Hope is based on three pillars: family, planet, and humanity. The products sold on the site are organic and natural goods, providing healthy alternatives for families and sustainable production for the planet. Profits generated then go to serving humanity in the form of microloans offered around the world.

As Boukadoum points out, the average loan is around $200, “a tiny amount that can make a huge difference in someone’s life.” To date, repayment of loans has had a 97 percent success rate.

This is largely due to the program’s design. “A group of 20 women get together and are responsible for the repayment of all the loans. They call it a bank,” Boukadoum says. Trades are spread among the women so they don’t compete. Each woman makes a repayment on the loan every two weeks to ensure they meet their one-year agreement.

If for some reason one woman comes up short on her repayment, the rest of the bank chips in to ensure she pays her portion. “That drives enormous cooperation inside the bank,” Boukadoum adds, “It makes them choose their partners carefully.”

Good Returns doesn’t only focus on poverty, but rather evaluates eight key areas of problems in the world, such as water, clean energy, and human slavery. Kyle Lukianuk, Boukadoum’s millennial business development partner, tells us, “What we are proving with Soap Hope is that actually being a Good Returns company is financially beneficial.”

Lukianuk explains that Good Returns is currently testing their model before expanding into big business. “We are gathering the data to present to a company,” he says. They are working on a case study that will measure conversion and awareness of Soap Hope. “You can convert that [information] to dollars.”

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Vision for the Dallas Landing Pad

Boukadoum and Lukianuk are working on the next step toward building “The Impact City” – a landing pad that helps connect social entrepreneurs with the resources that can take their business to the next level.

They are working on opening a 60,000 sq ft coworking space where social startups can thrive. In addition to space, the Landing Pad will incorporate what Boukadoum refers to as “Sherpas,” individuals who assist with specific areas of expertise. He explains, “The Media Sherpa will know all the folks in town who can help tell stories through different channels…the Industry Sherpa has deep relationships with Fortune 1,000 companies.” He adds there will be a total of 14 Sherpas with some of the more important ones addressing entrepreneurship, academia and access to capital.

“This is not just for the startup. We plan on bringing every form of impact organization at every scale at every part of the ecosystem.” Namely, he mentioned wanting to welcome the headquarters for the United Nations, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Gates Foundation into Dallas. “It’s not intended to be their permanent home. It is intended to be their place where they land in the city and get connected.”

There are three criteria to be accepted into the Landing Pad network. First, the company needs to solve a deep-seated issue. Second, the company must have a sustainable model. And third, the company’s product or service cannot create negative side effects.

Boukadoum suggests a CSR program does not make a company an impact organization. “The first and foremost reason for existing has to be solving a major human problem,” he says. With mission being at the core of the sustainable business model, Good Returns believes consumers are willing to support companies that choose purpose over profit. And his belief proves to be fact. According to a recent Neilson poll, three in four millennials will pay extra for sustainable offerings.

It may be early to tell whether Dallas will succeed with their vision in becoming the Impact City, but one thing is for sure, BIG things happen in Dallas. To learn more about Good Returns, shop at Soap Hope, or learn how to get involved with The Impact City, visit GoodReturns.org and use #DallasBig to get the word out.