This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Virgin Unite describes itself as the “entrepreneurial foundation” of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. It is a registered nonprofit and the part of Virgin focused on social impact. Branson, not typically labeled a social entrepreneur, sure seems to be one.
Recently, I’ve connected with Virgin Unite President Jean Oelwang to learn more about the organization and about its work.
A quick perusal of the website will tell you that Branson is concerned about a wide range of social issues from the oceans, to youth unemployment and homelessness, and from AIDS and TB to rural transportation for health workers (motorbikes).
Oelwang is championing a new initiative that addresses broad, global issues, called 100% Human at Work” led by The B Team, a global nonprofit incubated by Virgin Unite.
“We live in a world in which change is happening faster than ever: environmental pressures, population growth, massive advancements in technology, and significant shifts in the demographic of the workforce to name just a few,” Oelwang says.
“This has inevitably sparked changes in the ways in which we work and people’s aspirations and desires for their work are also shifting. This is an amazing opportunity for companies to be at the forefront of change and to start to build purpose-driven organizations that prioritize people and planet alongside profit,” she adds.
Oelwang explains, “The B Team’s vision of the future is a world in which the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit. Its mission is to help develop a ‘Plan B’ that puts people and planet alongside profit. Plan A – where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone – is no longer acceptable.”
“One area that the B Team is focusing on is the way in which businesses treat their employees. The B Team has developed an initiative called ’100% Human at Work’ which was driven by the belief that it is time for businesses to stop looking at people as resources and to start seeing them as human beings,” Oelwang continues.
She says, “We have also collaborated to identify the five elements that define a 100% Human company: Respect, Equality, Growth, Belonging, Purpose.”
“Through partnerships and collaborations we also want to inspire business for the next generation, so that together we can make our workplaces 100% Human. We want to turn work upside down to become a place where people can contribute to society, the planet, their company and to their own personal growth,” Oelwang concludes.
On Thursday, November 19, 2015 at Oelwang will join me for a live discussion about building a “100% Human” company. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Virgin Unite:
Virgin Unite, the entrepreneurial foundation of the Virgin Group. We unite people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world. We believe disruption is at the heart of entrepreneurial thinking – to defy the status quo and turn challenges into opportunities.
How do we do it?
- We shine a spotlight on unacceptable issues and great entrepreneurial approaches. Using the strength of the Branson family and the brand’s convening power, we leverage our 53m customers, 20m social media followers, and 65,000 Virgin staff, to raise awareness of and take action around important issues.
- We create disruptive collaborations. We bring together the best people and organisations from all sectors to change business for good, protect the planet (and beyond!) and create better global governance.
- We empower entrepreneurs to change business for good. We help them get the skills, support and funding access they need to succeed, while showing how to put people and planet alongside profit at the heart of their business.
In all that we do, we are uniting a powerful global community of entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and inspirational leaders, who share our belief that entrepreneurial ideas, together with the right people, can create change around the world. Why not take a closer look at what we’ve done over the last 10 years!
Our overheads are covered by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, meaning that 100% of all donations received go directly to the frontline.
Jean Oelwang is President and a Trustee of Virgin Unite, the entrepreneurial foundation of the Virgin Group.. In 2003, Jean left her post as joint CEO of Virgin Mobile Australia to begin working with Richard Branson and the Virgin staff from around the world to create Virgin Unite. Over the last 12 years, Jean has worked with partners to create new approaches to social and environmental issues, such as the Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship and a global platform to support budding entrepreneurs. She has helped incubate a number of global leadership initiatives such as The Elders, the Carbon War Room, The B Team and Ocean Unite. In addition, Jean has been instrumental in working with Virgin’s businesses and others worldwide to put driving positive change at their core.
In her previous life, Jean lived and worked on six continents helping to lead successful mobile phone start-ups in South Africa, Columbia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and the US.
Jean has long explored the overlap of the business and social sectors and has been involved in both, having worked for the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife in Australia, and in numerous volunteer roles, including a stint as a VISTA volunteer where she worked with – and learned from – homeless teens in Chicago.
She sits on the Advisory Council for The Elders and the Boards of the Carbon War Room, Ocean Unite, Ocean Elders and Just Capital. She is also a Senior Partner in the B Team.