In recent years, a handful of Chinese entrepreneurs have set up companies that use legitimate business models to tackle some of the country’s most vexing problems — and also turn in a profit. As these early experiments show, social innovation — or using business models to solve social and environmental problems — requires a fundamentally new way of thinking.
A case in point is Spring Mountain, a company started by Liu Zhifeng. Spring Mountain produces sea buckthorn juice through a network of over 100,000 farmers in Inner Mongolia and Ningxia. Even as it helps raise rural incomes by turning these farmers into micro-entrepreneurs, Spring Mountain’s unique business model fights desertification as well.
Liao Jianwen, Associate Dean of Executive Education and Professor of Managerial Practice, Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CKGSB, has been studying social innovation models for some time now. In this interview, he elaborates on the genesis of such business models and also the challenges associated with them.