BSR Broadcast: “Unleashing the Promise of Business for Social Impact” with PSU’s Cindy Cooper

Cindy Cooper

More and more, we’re realizing that entrepreneurship is enormously powerful. It goes without saying that it has the power to improve the lives of entrepreneurs themselves, but the latest research also indicates that it can have a huge impact when it comes to social justice and radical change. For instance, think about’s high-profile Purpose Prize, “the nation’s pre-eminent large-scale investment in people over 60 who are combining their passion and experience for social good” (the 2014 winners were recently announced—take a look!)

The Purpose Prize is tremendously inspiring (especially for all of us encores out there!) but we Oregonians have some phenomenal resources right in our backyard. That’s why we’re delighted to introduce this week’s BSR Broadcast guest: Cindy Cooper, Co-founder and Director of Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs program.

Growing up in Brazil and in the U.S., Cindy was struck by the sheer randomness of social opportunities and barriers, and became keenly aware of the dangers of prejudice and stereotyping. She learned that it was important to try to understand things from other perspectives and to approach life with an open heart. In college, she majored in psychology because it fascinated her and seemed like a good way to be of service, but unsure psychology would fit as a lifelong career, she turned to business, another lifelong passion (before even entering college she had already run four small enterprises!)

“My work to make meaning and my work to make a living continued to be fairly compartmentalized,” Cindy writes, but in 1998 she learned about social entrepreneurship while discussing corporate responsibility with her boss at Nike. “The idea that business could be a lever for maximizing positive impact was a powerful revelation.” It opened a clear path for how Cindy’s seemingly divergent passions and skills could work together to generate lasting, significant change.

Since then, Cindy has launched a social business focused on international development and cross-cultural understanding; created social entrepreneurship programs at Net Impact; consulted with Nike on social innovation; contracted with Ashoka Changemakers; launched two social entrepreneurship incubators; and become a university educator. At PSU, she teaches social entrepreneurship and oversees Impact Entrepreneurs’ Social Innovation Incubator, which was named by Fast Company Magazine as one of “America’s 51 bold and brilliant ideas to enrich our cities and our lives.”

In 2013, The Portland Business Journal named Cindy a “Forty Under 40” awardee, and in 2012, Sustainable Business Oregon named her one of 10 sustainable economy leaders to watch. She is clearly recognized as a regional treasure but we would argue that she is a national (or even global!) one as well. You’ll be able to stream or download her conversation with Jackie on Wednesday afternoon, and can listen any time after that as well. Come get inspired!