Attorney, author and Harvard lecturer Kyle Westaway noticed something unexpected happening to him during law school. “I grew a heart,” he admits. He long assumed that law school would harden him, giving him the callouses required to face the legal profession. Instead, Kyle reveals, “For some reason, my eyes opened up to social justice in general, and a couple of issues in specific — extreme poverty and sex trafficking in Southeast Asia.” He became determined to find a way to become part of a solution. During a summer internship in New York, Kyle met and became fast friends with some people launching an anti-sex-trafficking organization. He decided to join them, and all held high hopes that they would soon effect change.

Listen Up

“What we eventually learned from our time on the ground listening was that this issue’s more complex than a group of 20-somethings in New York could understand.” So, in recognition of their youthful inexperience, they focused first on more dialogue, and concentrated listening with the singular intent to hear the voices of the at-risk populations.

“There were many distinct issues within this macro issue,” Kyle explains, “one was that women who had left the commercial sex trade often found themselves drifting back into it, due primarily to a lack of economic resources. We learned that they don’t really want charity any more than you or I do. They want a decent job, to raise a family and ensure that the next generation has a better life. So we said, ‘What if we give them jobs,’ and we launched a clothing brand that was designed to work with survivors in Bangkok.”

Call It Out

Their venture Biographe created an opportunity for employment and empowerment, allowing survivors of the sex trade to move toward economic independence. While the company eventually lost traction — “To put it bluntly,” Kyle confesses, “it failed”— the experience introduced him to the growing field of social entrepreneurship. “I got into it out of a desire to solve a very specific problem, and the ‘solve’ for that problem was business. None of us had ever heard the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ before. Once we got further in … we realized there’s this whole field out there of people who are thinking about these topics. That opened my eyes to the whole sector.”

Truth Be Told

With failure in his back pocket, Kyle searched for resources to help him better understand the field. “What I saw were some books written by people who run organizations and used primarily as fundraising tools. So they’re telling a story that’s probably based in reality at some level, but not in any way objective,” he says. These stories offered touching tributes and inspirational messages, but weren’t giving him insight into the fundamentals. Each new account left him with more questions, and he longed for answers. So, in absence of an outside source, Kyle decided to write one himself, resulting in the book “Profit & Purpose.”

“I’d seen failure in the sector … The hope was to write something that would be about how companies or organizations that manage to be successful do that. What does that look like? What’s the behind-the-scenes story of it? That was the intent of the book. Born out of our failure, and a quest to understand if social enterprise actually works, or if it’s just a bunch of hype.”

He had his primary outlet for research right in front of him. As managing partner of Westaway, an innovative law firm focused on the counsel of social entrepreneurs, Kyle steers an entire practice specializing in emerging legal structures and advising clients throughout the lifecycle of their organizations. He knew there were common threads woven into the mantle of these business owners, and he began to identify the strongest fibers.

Talk It Out

“I did this book the wrong way,” Kyle quips. He knows authors that start with a definitive outline, thesis and agenda, modeling efficiency as they write. “I did the exact opposite,” he says. “I did all the interviews and tried to lay out the data … then realized that basically all of these themes and characteristics are required throughout the life of a company, but some are more prominent at certain phases.”

In his book, Kyle outlines seven key core tools of social enterprise marketplace leaders.

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© All photos courtesy of Kyle Westaway.
This interview is a copyright of Rank & File, Inc.