Essential Pittsburgh
2:47 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

Social Entrepreneurs: Merging Profit Endeavors with a Non-Profit Mission

Tim Zak (left), Director of the Institute of Social Innovations at CMU, studies social changes which includes Ian Rosenberger (right), founder of Thread International, is just one example of a new type of entrepreneur called social entrepreneurs.
Tim Zak (left), Director of the Institute of Social Innovations at CMU, studies social changes which includes Ian Rosenberger (right), founder of Thread International, is just one example of a new type of entrepreneur called social entrepreneurs.
Credit Nick Frost / 90.5 WESA

There are many emerging companies that blur the lines of for profit endeavor with a non-profit mission, these social entrepreneurs, as they are called, are concerned with both financial sustainability and social impact.

Ian Rosenberger, founder of Thread International, an East Liberty based company recycling plastic bottles in Haiti for use in the manufacturing of apparel is one of these social entrepreneurs. Tim Zak, Director of the Institute for Social Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University studies innovators such as Ian.

Zak says, "we often think of entrepreneurs as those who have a motivation for financial gain and perhaps as a nice byproduct there are some social impact, where social entrepreneurs differ perhaps is that they are still addressing the needs of people that their needs are not adequately met by existing solutions, but their primary motivation is on social impact that is financially sustainable over a long period of time."

Rosenberger has created a company that appears to fit that definition and it all started after a natural disaster.

"After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, I got the chance to travel down there and while there, spent a week and fell in love with the country and people. And the two things I see the most when I travel to the developing world, and I've had the chance to see a lot of interesting places now, are poverty and trash. In a place like Haiti where you see thousands of non-profits and NGO's focusing on social problems, but not a lot of progress being made, we saw an opportunity to pick up a lot of trash, create a lot of jobs and have a social impact at the same time. The idea for Thread was born out of a need to create jobs for the people we were coming to love, the friends and family, in Haiti almost four years ago now."