Aj Segneri is the founder of Foundation for a United Front, an activist, action tank organization that looks to engage, organize, and collaborate with those who want to fight against forces that affects our economy, environment, and society through nonviolent action.
1. What made you decide to become a Social Entrepreneur?
My parents operated their own business, electrical contracting, and they were also involved with many community organizations where they volunteered their time. This early exposure attracted me towards the nonprofit sector and also through my activism led me to gravitate to organizations that worked with those in the community, while serving to the greater good.
2. What are the fundamental differences between a Social Entrepreneur and a for-profit Entrepreneur?
The difference I feel is simply: one is about people over profit, while the other wants to profit off of those that are providing a production of goods (both physical and providing one’s time). Which is why I like implementing the principles that cooperative businesses uphold as a way to democratized the workplace as well as putting the idea forward of people over profit.
3. What inspires you to do more?
I really cannot explain it. When I get up in the morning and when I am about to go to bed I keeping thinking about activities for my nonprofit and how I can be better as a social entrepreneur. When you look at those who are an entrepreneur, social and for-profit, you can see a characteristic of wanting to do more and trying to build or pivot to the work you are doing. Not all entrepreneurs have that kind of internal motivation, which is fine.
4. There are some entrepreneurs out there who don’t think it is possible to do good and still make money, what would you say to someone who thinks like that?
That question is something I think about all the time. The underlining question is how are you defining good? Because there are nonprofits out there that are profiting off the injustices of those that are being oppressed and repressed in their communities. With the current economic system we have, we have to make money in order to thrive in society. But for me, I much rather make $35-$40K to meet my needs than to find legal loopholes in order to make more money and deviate from the original purpose of why you started your social business.
It is possible to make money and provide the good you intended to do, but you have to consistently reflect on what you are doing. So that you are guiding the purpose you set out to do with your social business.
5. What is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Keep educating and training yourself. Not just trends that are happening in your field and/or position, but also learning how other areas impact what you are doing. One of the things I cherish the most is having educators providing me an interdisciplinary education. I took courses like Moral Controversy In Technology, where we looked at business, philosophy, sociology, and psychology to examine how technology has been used over time and how ethics have evolved over time. This kind of education will develop better forecasting, giving a person a well-rounded critical thought, and maintain practicality.
6. Who/what inspires you?
Who: People like Robert Owen, who developed a communal society in Indiana; Steve Jobs for his unique personality, Andy Warhol, who provided spaces for those to create their own work and to network with people, Mel Andraiga and his partner for developing Legion Arts as a space for visual and performing artist, but also a space for community organizations and individuals to utilize a space to promote their programs.
What: cooperative businesses, creative incubator spaces, DIY punk venues, anarchist collectives, and grassroots organizations
7. What are some of your future plans?
Our current plans is to take our nonprofit to another level through its programs and events. Already we have an outreach to many regional organizations and we are going to utilize that network to broadcast our work. We are also developing a bookstore coop that will be the first of its kind in the Chicago area.