Changing the world by degrees

Changing the world by degrees

Today’s young people want to have a positive influence on the world. They want to spend their money on sustainable, inclusive and accessible products. Food that is ethically produced. Beauty brands that offer foundations for all skin colours. Packaging that is environmentally sustainable. In fact, a Nielson study found that 73 per cent of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.

We know that business can drive social and environmental change. From start-ups to small business, social entrepreneurship is more popular than ever.

So, what is social entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurs start with an inspiring business idea – an idea based on social or environmental change. Some will generate a profit, while others will funnel all profits to their cause.

Social businesses don’t rely on donations or government funding. They produce a product or service, which means they’re self-sustainable.

A world-changing idea

The concept of socially-conscious business was pioneered by a La Trobe Emeritus Professor, Dr Muhammad Yunus. His vision is a world with zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero carbon emissions.

Dr Yunus proposed the idea of social business in his 2007 book, Creating a World Without Poverty. But he’s practised what he preaches for decades. Yunus founded the first microcredit provider, Grameen Bank. Since 1976, the bank has lent small amounts of money at low interest to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh.

There are now ‘Yunus Centres’ all around the world: think tanks for all issues related to social business. La Trobe is home to its very own Yunus Social Business Centre, which brings together people from around the world to share ideas and stories. People like Dr Andreas Heinecke who founded Dialogue in the Dark, which employs over 350 blind people in more than 40 countries.

Students want the skills to make a difference of their own. At La Trobe, social business is taught through dedicated core topics and embedded into why we study, teach and research business. We offer subjects and electives in entrepreneurship, sustainability and responsible management.

The next generation of social entrepreneurs

While studying his Bachelor of Business/Financial Management degree at La Trobe, Jarryd Burns found his inspiration for social entrepreneurship: global poverty.

Burns co-founded Thankyou, which sells water, personal care and baby products. One hundred per cent of profits goes towards ending global poverty. Funds are used to get safe water, toilets, hygiene training, safe births and health care to people in need.

He started the company while studying his business degree, where he used the knowledge and skills he learned in class to oversee the finance and operations at Thankyou – and launch over 50 products.

In ten years, they’ve donated upwards of six million dollars to help more than 800,000 people around the world.


What social issue would you change? Perhaps you’d start your own business – or you might bring your skills in sustainability and social change to industry. Discover how you could make an impact with our business and commerce degrees.

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