Jonathan A. Liebert

Do you remember January 2020? It was the start of a new year, a new decade, and with a strong economy, it felt like anything was possible. We were just learning about a strange new virus that had begun to spread across China, its presence a silent clock counting down to the time it would bring the world to its knees. The beginning of 2020 felt like a much simpler time, even if it seems like it was a lifetime ago.  

With over 1.7 million deaths worldwide and counting, COVID-19 has impacted every corner of the world. This year  has been historic in many ways: From the economic devastation and catastrophic loss of life brought on by the COVID‑19 pandemic to new effects from climate change, transformative moments in the Black Lives Matter movement to a highly contentious U.S. election, 2020 was as sobering as it was defining. 

And yet we are still moving forward, more determined than ever to keep our economy going while supporting our local community. Here in Colorado Springs, we have seen that we are resilient, innovative, persistent and passionate about our fellow citizens, teachers and small businesses. But we still have a lot of work to do. 

The start of 2021 will look much different from the start of 2020. We will continue to be in the grip of a global pandemic, but we are armed with much more knowledge and hope seems to be just around the corner as crucial vaccine developments are emerging. Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, $12 trillion has been spent in global fiscal response (the largest in history), stabilizing many economies worldwide. But at a national and local level, we need more aid to help save businesses in the New Year. As we enter 2021 and figure out how to rebuild, we must consider this: Rather than trying to shore up an outdated economic system, we must build a better one by addressing the underlying structural flaws that have been exposed and exacerbated by the events of 2020.

I believe many of the social, environmental and economic challenges we face today are downstream consequences of outdated economic systems and organizational models whose roots date back to the Industrial Age. The scale, urgency, and complexity of these challenges demand a fundamental upgrade to business-as-usual. The growing sector of for-benefit enterprises, also known as social impact businesses, offers an opportunity to solve many of these social and environmental challenges, while advancing inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Combining attributes of traditional for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations, social impact businesses are hybrid business structures whose higher purpose is delivering social and environmental benefit while making a profit. This purpose- and profit-minded business constitutes an emerging fourth sector of the economy which has been growing at the intersection of the traditional private, public and nonprofit sectors for decades. This innovation is evolving capitalism and traditional business models alike, all while broadening the current business definition of success. The pandemic will usher in a new economic age and we need to be prepared to grab hold of the opportunity to update the underlying architecture of our aging economic system.

We need to unleash the power of purpose-driven organizations to build a better economy. By strengthening the supportive ecosystem for this fourth sector, we can rise to the challenge that the COVID-19 crisis has created to build a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable world. This is a transformative journey, transitioning from what has been a shareholder-supremacy paradigm to one that is inclusive of all stakeholders and is intentional and strategic in serving communities while creating jobs. 

This journey requires new ideas, new voices and massive collaboration at every level. In the coming months we will have to continue to work together and be more strategic than ever before. As we seize this opportunity in 2021, I believe it will be a year of rebuilding, innovation and hope.

Jonathan A. Liebert

CEO at BBB of Southern Colorado/Colorado Institute for Social Impact