Some entrepreneurs build businesses that are wildly profitable. Some create products that astonish. Some treat every single employee like family. But there's another attribute that makes an entrepreneur lovable: a desire to change the world. Companies like Ben & Jerry's and the Body Shop became famous for donating a portion of profits to charity, harming no animals, and treating workers fairly. And their products? One clogs your arteries; the other leaves you smelling fruity. Their success is a reminder that most "socially responsible" companies win plaudits for their methods of doing business, not because their products really make the world a better place.
Which is why we love Davin Wedel of Global Protection. His products--colored condoms, flavored condoms, glow-in-the-dark condoms, lollipop condoms--share a genuinely important goal: to keep people from spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Wedel started the company 17 years ago in his Tufts University dorm room to encourage classmates to practice safe sex. The company's mission remains the same: "To make condoms as socially acceptable as toothpaste and to make safe sex as much an act of second nature as wearing a seat belt."
Today Wedel and his staff of 30 work in an industrial loft within sight of Boston's Logan Airport. In a back room a conveyor belt sends 5,000 Pleasure Plus condoms an hour into wrappers (boxes carry words of praise like "Oodles more sensation" from Cosmo and other magazines). Nearby a female worker tests for leaks by filling condoms with water, knotting the ends, and kneading them like bread dough on a brown paper towel. The adjoining stockroom contains enough latex to sheathe a decade's worth of spring-breakers.
Most of these rubbers will wind up at nonprofit clinics, which accounted for 55% of Global Protection's $3.9 million sales in 2003. It's a low-margin business (the average clinic pays 9.5 cents for condoms that command $1 apiece at retail), but supplying customers like Leola Reis of Planned Parenthood of Georgia remains at the core of Global Protection's strategy. The company wins her business by carrying colorful products (popular with younger people) and female condoms, and by producing helpful outreach material. "They have good, healthy sexuality messages," Reis says.
Wedel and his staff could make more money working, as he says, pointing toward Boston's financial district, "somewhere over there." But Global Protection's work delivers psychic rewards. Says Stephen Mare, vice president of sales: "I really believe these products will make couples use condoms more consistently, which may keep someone from getting sick or maybe even save someone's life." And what did you accomplish at work today?--Daniel McGinn
Daniel McGinn is a national correspondent for Newsweek.