How to Use Your Business to Help Others

If you’re in business, one of your main goals is usually to provide an income to yourself and your family. Now, you can’t just be in business to make money – you have to love what you do and enjoy “helping” others, i.e. your clients or customers. But this kind of “help” does not fall under the category of charitable giving, where helping takes the form of aiding those who are less fortunate with basics, like food, clothing and health care.

I realized recently that a person in business can use their business connections and knowledge to truly help others in a charitable way: by helping people reach a state where they can sustain themselves with their own income, rather than depending on charitable contributions.

Maimonides (Rambam), an ancient Jewish doctor and philosopher who lived in Spain and Egypt at the end of the 12th century, listed the types of charitable activities that people can do and rated them from most ideal to least ideal. The most obvious type of charity is, of course, giving money to someone in need. This form of giving actually ranks pretty low on Maimonides scale of giving. He states that the best form of charity is to give someone the means to sustain themselves, whether it’s through an interest-free loan or by helping them get a job.

Over the past few months, I have been lucky enough to help two people get jobs that have become their main sources of income. In addition, friends and family often approach me for advice and guidance in starting or managing their small businesses, which I am happy to give.

I’m sure that business can be used to help others in many more ways – how do you use your business to truly help others?

  • Charitable activity is only one way a business can be socially responsible. A more difficult task is to try and integrate a meaningful social philosophy into the daily functioning of the enterprise.

    I run a social enterprise. What does this mean? In addition to providing me with a livelihood, the structure of the business enables economic activity at the lowest stratum of the economy.

    We provide touring services for tourists, and go out of our way to find local guides in towns and villages, foster the development of hostels and guesthouses at the village level. We also encourage our clients to do their shopping at small craft workshops, cooperatives, and fair trade outlets. Most tour companies take their clients to commercial shops and get a large ‘kickback, often 30-40%, from the customers spend.

    Another aspect of our social mission is providing foreign visitors with information about the country not readily available from mainstream tour companies, who tend to avoid controversial issues. We jump right in. Our clients meet ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, hear their stories. We visit refugee camps, the Gaza Border, and the Separation Barrier. We also place people for overnight stays with Israelis and Palestinians in private homes, and generally try and give our clients a meaningful view of the country through experiencing the people.