Social entrepreneurs value community over bottom line

What’s your favorite city? Why?

I bet you dollars to donuts not one of you picked a great city because of its mayor or business leaders. You picked it because of the food, the music, the sports, or the museums. Great cities leave you feeling their essence long after you leave.

For community builders Simone Wai and Joe Burgum, one of the cornerstones of Fargo’s culture is possibility. “It’s what we feel in the start up community. It’s what we feel downtown. I think why people are attracted to come is that we can create. We can build and we can make tomorrow different and distinct from today and from the past. You don’t get that in every city,” says Burgum.

The pair nurtures culture creators in their business Folkways. “That sense of belonging, it’s why people stay in a city. It’s what fosters that sense of place love…I mean it’s human need,” says Burgum. We get that feeling from friends and family. We get it in college, or clubs, or church. What Folkways is after is getting it from cities.

If you’re thinking that’s an odd business model, you’re not alone. Wai and Burgum realize it doesn’t quite fit the norms we know. “I see it as kind of that place where you don’t quite fit in with other models. It’s not quite a for profit or non profit,” explains Wai. It’s called social entrepreneurship. That’s when businesses value the effect they have on a community as much or more than the bottom line. It’s not a new concept. The term appeared in print in the 1953 book “Social Responsibilities of the Businessman,” but the concept’s seen a boost since the new millennium.

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The Red River Market runs Saturdays from July to October. Photo by Simone Wai

Folkways doesn’t claim to be inventing new genius ideas we can’t believe we ever lived without. What Wai and Burgum are doing is reinvigorating ideas that worked in other times or places. Among their many endeavors, they run a farmers market in the summer. The idea is “as old as commerce itself,” admits Burgum. Yet somehow, we grew away from it. We lacked the space or time for gathering, but we never lost the desire. Going to the market every week to get groceries sounds mundane, but it becomes a highlight because you never know who or what you’re going to see. “Weekly recurring [social] events are so important,” enthused Wai, calling them “consistent spontaneity.”

Need a little consistent spontaneity in your life? Check out 1 Million Cups Fargo, your weekly dose of coffee and conversation. Coming up on Wednesday, October 26, it’s Social Entrepreneur Day. We hear from two companies, Folkways and Goodbulb. Head over to The Stage at Island Park. Speaking gets underway at 9:15 a.m. Pregame with free coffee at 9:00.

Ashley Thornberg