Founder, Green Circle Projects LLC, Farmers Markets of the Ozarks Inc. and TrailSpring Inc.
2015 Economic Outlook: Matt O'Reilly
Matt O’Reilly is behind two nonprofits operating a brand of social entrepreneurism centered on the triple bottom line of social, environmental and economic impacts. 2015 Projection “A large market correction and continued improvement of consumer behavior – and with the excess of profits, you’ll see more and more giving.” SBJ: What are the challenges and expectations in social entrepreneurism this year? Matt O’Reilly: The tailwinds are corporate profits, GDP rising and companies gaining confidence. I do think there will be a big stock market correction, but I think companies will continue to do well. With greater profits come greater incentive to give, so I think that’s a big tailwind for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.
SBJ: How do you define social entrepreneurism? O’Reilly: It’s using the toolbox that an entrepreneur has to pursue a more sustainable triple bottom line than just the black bottom line. It’s making decisions based on social, environmental and economic impact. A social entrepreneur is someone who builds a company centered around furthering social good as much or more as furthering economic good.
SBJ: Are social entrepreneurs inherently tied to nonprofit work? O’Reilly: That’s where people get mixed up. They see that 501(c)3 as a nonprofit and they forget that Inc. stands for incorporated; it’s a business. We’re in the business of (enabling local food sales and developing mountain bike trails). We have the same diligence or more, because we have responsibility to the public to be successful in our goals.
I consider myself a social entrepreneur because a lot of my projects are tied into community issues, even on the development side. I see those nonprofits as businesses (and) I measure our bottom line based on the success of our mission.
SBJ: Who are your mentors? O’Reilly: I think by far the most social entrepreneur thinker is George Soros. He’s gotten a bad rap as the political polar opposite of the Koch brothers. But his thinking as a philosopher is very powerful – his principle of reflexivity that participants in a market don’t just react to the market but shape a market.
In his opening statement in the Soros lectures, he says, “Over the years, I have been able to make billions of dollars as an investor and give billions of dollars away as a philanthropist.” I don’t care who you are, what comes after that, I’m paying attention. I’m listening.
He builds social entrepreneurship into his worldview of how the markets work. That’s my ideal. I believe that world exists where the overall environmental and social good is also what’s best for business.
SBJ: What can you point to locally as a direct connection to Soros’ philosophies? O’Reilly: When you look at local food, you have this social impact of creating this sense of community and a place for people to go and this health impact of non-GMO, organic foods. People are being conscious of what they’re buying and eating. But the economic impact is huge. … As people vote for those sorts of products with their money, they are affecting the marketplace and changing it. And it’s reflexive. The market listens, and people’s behavior affects the market.
SBJ: How do your trails fit in? O’Reilly: The trails are an integral amenity for strong communities. When companies look to move to a community, they think about their employees and who they are trying to attract. … Employees are going to look to see what this community has to offer them. If the pay is good, that’s great, but if there’s nothing for them to do – they are comparing the culture and the arts and the amenities.
It’s an amenity our community is short on, especially natural surface trails. When people are looking to locate here, when students are looking to stay here, they want to see those amenities exist, or they’ll go someplace else.
SBJ: After your sale this year of Dynamic Earth to Texas-based Backwoods, how much will you follow the direction of the store? O’Reilly: I care a lot about how it goes. For one, they’re on the lease. [laughs] It’s like sending your kid to college; you’re not in charge of them anymore, but you’re sure as hell watching them close. [laughs] I’m watching that close. I think it has a really positive impact on people’s lives. I hope they can grow that. I think they can, because they have better tools than I did.
SBJ: What’s the next project? O’Reilly: This winter, we’re doing Phase II of two rivers, which is another 7 miles of single track, two downhill trails and more infrastructure. We’re working, hopefully, on some park partnerships to get more trails here in town. After Phase II, Two Rivers will be halfway to the goal of 30 miles in three years, so that leaves another 14 miles to do in about a year and a half. The only way to do that is through partnerships, and that means either Parks or City Utilities giving us access to some of the land.
SBJ: How have you shared your experiences with the larger entrepreneur community? O’Reilly: That’s a big shortcoming for me. Everybody does the 1 Million Cups thing. I’m too busy doing entrepreneurship and not talking about it. But it’s a huge resource to talk and learn from other people. There aren’t that many books on the nitty-gritty things that make entrepreneurship work. I generally have my head down, staring at a computer or in a meeting working. But in general, when given the chance to speak or participate on a panel I accept whenever I can.
SBJ: What’s your personal goal for 2015? O’Reilly: It all anchors down to the economic concept of comparative advantage: Do what you’re best at. My new goal is to never do something someone else can do for me. Presumably, as a businessperson, if only you can do it and it’s valuable, people will be willing to pay more for it. Just like with the United States, people say we should be more productive. Well, I don’t know. If five other countries are as good or better than us at production, then why don’t we specialize in software development and pizza delivery? Let’s do what we’re best at.[[In-content Ad]]