Social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility are twin drivers of positive social change. Direct selling companies and the independent salespeople that represent them are a quintessential example of the power of networks as a force for social good. The Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) shared that message with 300 students at the University of San Francisco during the “Putting People First: Changing the Way We Do Business” campus event on March 2. DSEF’s “Changing the Way We Do Business” event, which also featured business innovation in the classroom, was conceived by DSEF Board Member, Dr. Elizabeth Davis, Dean of the USF School of Management and Dr. Peggy Takahashi, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs. The DSEF event kicked off USF’s Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Conference and Tech4Good Startup Weekend, which brought together business leaders, investors and social entrepreneurs to discuss how socially-conscious action, innovation and education can change the world. Shaklee Chairman and CEO Roger Barnett and Trades of Hope Founder Chelsie Antos shared their companies’ remarkable stories of service, social entrepreneurship and sustainability on panel moderated by Executive Advisor, Retired President and CEO and USF’s Executive-in-Residence Lori Bush. Many US companies have Corporate Social Responsibility programs in place, but direct selling companies are in a unique position to scale those efforts through their independent salesforce. “Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner, challenged me to plant one million trees.” says Roger. “At the time, Shaklee had 700,000 direct sellers. I realized that if each person planted one tree, that’s nearly three-quarters of our goal.”

Sales networks can serve as a powerful catalyst for social change.

Trades of Hope’s hand-made jewelry is fairly-traded with women artisans in developing countries, which are then sold through “Compassionate Entrepreneurs” – or direct sellers – in the United States. “When you empower one person out of poverty, they bring three people with them,” says Chelsie. “42,000 people in developing nations are being positively impacted by the work these artisans are doing in their communities,” supported by the sale of these products by direct sellers, who can build businesses of their own.

Social entrepreneurship is also a market disruptor, given the right circumstances.

Ruby Ribbon, a shapewear company that sells products through home parties known as “Trunk Shows,” is using social entrepreneurship and innovative garment technology to disrupt the shapewear market and radically change consumer experience. Market disruption occurs when a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge an established industry. “Our investors told us there was no way women would try on shapewear in other people’s homes,” says Ruby Ribbon Founder and CEO Anna Zornosa, “but our customers benefit from being professionally fitted by our Stylists,” in a private, rather than public, space. Exposure to direct selling companies as real-world businesses changes hearts and minds of students and faculty. “I was impressed with the companies that visited USF,” says Dr. Sonya Poole, “DSEF’s program shifted my perception and understanding of the direct selling business model.” Dr. Vanessa Hasse echoed that sentiment, “My students shared their thoughts about the presentations and they all loved it. It was an enriching classroom experience.”