Photo by Nathaniel Wood
By Ryan Zoradi
Last month we were honored to host Kyle Westaway at Apolis: Common Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. While spending some time together at Handsome Coffee Roasters, we asked him the simple question “What do you do?” and he responded with a story about the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. The theme of the fair was The World of Tomorrow and the most memorable exhibit, Futurama, depicted a sparkling future city far away in the year 1960. Futurama was sponsored by General Motors and predictably asserted that cars would play a starring role in the 20th century metropolis. Massive freeways snaked in and out of the city forming a national highway system that would conveniently connect suburban and urban neighborhoods.
Putting Futurama in a 2012 context allows Kyle to reflect on the role social enterprises will play in the future global economy. According to Kyle, the contemporary corporation, built on the principle of profit maximization, is like an old car from the 20th century that cannot keep up in a 21st century world. The harder we push on the gas of this old model corporation, the further it will fall behind. Companies cannot increase efficiency ad infinitum to keep up with earning expectations. They cannot continue to focus solely on shareholders when they are now inherently global with stakeholders located worldwide. Therefore, corporations of the future will begin to look more like the social enterprises of today. They will take into consideration social and environmental impact in addition to profit. They will be engaging and refreshing for business owners and consumers alike. However, for these 21st century model companies to thrive, they will need new infrastructure—a new Futurama.
After receiving a BA from the University of Tennessee and an MA and JD from Regent University in Virginia, Kyle began building the legal infrastructure for social enterprises. If social enterprises are a new kind of car in the Futurama analogy, Kyle views himself as a new road builder. His website, socentlaw.com is a hub for discussion on the B Corp certification process and new legal structures including Benefit Corporations, L3Cs, and Flexible Purpose Corporations. He has also written on the topic for the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review. According to Kyle, organizations currently have to choose between a for-profit highway and a non-profit highway. New legal structures that blend profit and impact exist, but they are like small footpaths between these two highways. Kyle’s goal is to transform these dirt paths into major roads so for-profits and non-profits can borrow ideas from one another and work together to solve social and environmental problems.
This winter, Kyle will have an opportunity to fine-tune his vision of the future at one of America’s most prestigious universities. Still only in his early thirties, he has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School where he will teach a course on social entrepreneurship. In 1939, GM gave every visitor to Futurama a sticker that read: “I have seen the future.” If Kyle has it his way, Harvard students will exit his classroom saying the same thing.