Opportunities For All
The fourth sector works in harmony with and extends the capacities of the traditional public, private, and social sectors to drive positive change. Its growth and the strengthening of its supportive ecosystem will deliver significant benefits to individuals and organizations across the current system and will create a fertile ground for value and knowledge exchange across the sectors. It can provide a superior institutional platform for industries whose products and services are inherently a public good, such as healthcare, journalism, mass transit, infrastructure, utilities, energy, education, and banking. It can boost the public sector by increasing revenues, creating jobs, stimulating growth, and reducing liabilities linked to social and environmental degradation. The non-profit sector also benefits; new contracting and partnership opportunities with mission aligned for-benefits, and increased philanthropic resources are among the benefits provided by this new sector.
The growth of a large new sector of the economy presents a tremendous opportunity for the entrepreneurs, professionals and organizations involved in its development…e.g. lawyers, accountants, educational institutions, think tanks, etc.
The Private Sector
In an environment of constant innovation through technology, shifting geo-political pressures, and empowered consumers and shareholders, companies are required to become ever more adaptive and resilient. Constant attention to business innovation is no longer a luxury. It is an essential mechanism for survival. Under persistent pressure to keep up with product developments, disruptive business models, new forms of consumer engagement, and talent migration, businesses are forced to reconsider their core operating models, how they engage with all of their stakeholders, and how they can identify and adopt new measures of success.
Many for-benefit entities hold solutions that can help established businesses stay relevant and remain profitable in the long run. As for-benefits are considering the benefit of all and not just their financial bottom line, they are, by design, more closely connected to their stakeholders. Their stakeholders, in turn, tend to develop a deeper commitment to them, and thus, for-benefits command a higher level of affinity and loyalty and are more resilient to market volatility. Their close relationship to their stakeholders also creates another advantage: for-benefits are more porous and receptive to consumer and employee feedback, and more open to crowd- or community-sourced innovation. For-benefits are ahead of traditional businesses on the ‘purpose journey’ and can provide invaluable lessons from their trajectory and their successes and failures. In sum, what for-benefits are learning on their journey can bring invaluable insight for businesses that are seeking to deepen their engagement with their own stakeholder communities.
Furthermore, as the supportive ecosystem develops around the fourth sector, it will provide invaluable resources and tools that help traditional companies that are committed to expanding their purpose and impact. Far beyond just supporting entrepreneurs and startups, this ecosystem will help SMEs and transnational companies who are adopting for-benefit thinking and practices and thus strengthening their business, brand and competitive edge. Because of the shared commitment to societal benefit, the fourth sector provides a more integrated and collaborative ecosystem, offering many efficiencies and rewards to such businesses—including supply chain innovations (i.e. shared costs of sourcing between competitors, creation of value chains), alignment around the use of natural resources (i.e. reduced costs of renewable energy through economies of scale), reduced R&D costs (collaborative product development), and more. Ultimately, as these large businesses leverage the fourth sector ecosystem to improve their ability to contribute solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, their scale and reach will yield dramatic improvements, and markets, the public, and governments will surely recognize and reward them for that.
The Social Sector
Dependency on funders and, consequently, the lack of long-term financial sustainability paired with ongoing competition for resources are the two most difficult challenges non-profits face regardless of their size, geography, or focus area. The fourth sector’s ecosystem supports non-profits that want to pursue revenue generation through commercial activities without compromising the integrity of their mission.
Non-profits and for-benefits both share the common good as their raison d’être, making them natural allies and partners. The fourth sector can provide (what are currently rare) opportunities for more meaningful collaboration and alignment of resources and strategies with partners in the business world. For-benefits can be counted on for long-term commitment to specific issue areas, and they can provide new philanthropic resources and contracting opportunities to help non-profits scale their solutions.
As the fourth sector and its supportive ecosystem grow, they will encourage and support traditional businesses become more strategic and effective at creating societal benefit (and reducing harm). This will reduce the burdens on non-profits by addressing many of the challenges they are dealing with at the root level, and will further align private sector resources with non-profit aims. Ultimately, non-profits will gain immensely from the for-profit sector aligning with the three other sectors to advance a more sustainable and equitable world.
The Public Sector
For-benefit enterprises are inherently committed to principles of sustainability and equity, so by definition, fourth sector development is synonymous with sustainable development—which is among the highest priorities for most governments. The growth of the fourth sector thus helps governments better fulfill their duties of developing the economy and providing for the public benefit. It means that more private resources, more human capacity, and more talent are put to good use in areas normally addressed by the state, thus alleviating the costs and burdens on governments at a time of resource scarcity and rising demand for public services. The fourth sector is also a great opportunity for job creation; for-benefits are estimated to be creating jobs almost twice as fast in the U.S. and Europe as traditional for-profit companies, and as the fourth sector ecosystem gets stronger, their contribution is sure to scale considerably.
The fourth sector and the public sector are mission aligned, so for-benefits are natural targets for contracting and procurement programs that prioritize sustainability and inclusive business. Over time, the close alignment between the sectors can also lead to improving the capacity for innovation within governments for addressing major challenges and provide for the public benefit in new and innovative ways also expands.
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In order to achieve the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs), which were adopted by all countries in 2015, the World Bank has estimated that tens of trillions of dollars of private finance and investment need to flow toward development aims globally by 2030. This is referred to as the “billions-to-trillions gap”. Expansion of the fourth sector is in fact what’s required to close this gap, because fourth sector development (vs traditional development) advances scalable, market-based solutions across all the SDGs while at the same time reducing the negative social & environmental externalities associated with growth. Also, the fourth sector addresses the root causes underlying each of the SDGs, which are often related to negative externalities associated with the current approach to development that has become the global norm—by embedding sustainability and human rights into the DNA of businesses, thereby yielding more sustainable, inclusive, ethical development outcomes as they grow. And finally, given the breadth and rapid growth potential of the fourth sector—there are tens of millions of social-purpose enterprises starting up around the world each year—developing the fourth sector can unleash entrepreneurship and innovation at massive scale to address challenges across the full spectrum of SDGs globally.