03/27/2012 11:18 am ET Updated May 27, 2012

From One Virgin, Countless Social Entrepreneurs Are Born

Richard Branson is an entrepreneur who understands how business can shape a more sustainable world. Consider this quote from his book Screw Business As Usual: "Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore this great next frontier where boundaries between work and purpose are merging into one, where doing good, really is good for business."

It's an exciting message made real by people like Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin Unite. The company, working with Branson and 200 Virgin businesses across 15 countries, has a mandate to "connect amazing people and great ideas to make positive change happen in the world."

At the GLOBE 2012 Conference, Oelwang and I chatted about how Virgin is spreading both its infectious brand of entrepreneurial zeal and its mission to lessen our impact on the planet.

One example that sparked my imagination was the company's unique take on an incubator for entrepreneurs.

In holiday destinations like the Caribbean, authentic experiences are becoming the new currency. But local entrepreneurs with great ideas seldom have access to the capital, training or leadership skills that would give their innovations the credibility tourism operators demand.

To counter that, Virgin Holidays, Virgin Unite and local partners like Chris Blackwell built the Branson Centre For Entrepreneurship Caribbean. The Centre's goal is to create local economies that sustain themselves as they protect both social equity and the environment -- building a valuable supply chain of smart, proud local entrepreneurs in the process. The end effect is a Caribbean that remains an authentic, vibrant destination, filled with interesting businesses, a thriving sense of community, and a protected environment.

"A focus on people is core to our brand" says Oelwang. "Our challenge is finding the great entrepreneurs wherever we are, and levering them to create entrepreneurial solutions to big problems."

Oelwang understands that people want to change their own community for the better, instead of having someone do it for them. By harnessing this insight effectively, Virgin Unite is creating benefits that radiate on a global scale.

A Global Entrepreneurial Idea Jam

A few years back, IBM conceived the idea of Global Idea Jams. These online events connected creative thinkers around the world to work out solutions to pressing issues. The events were brilliant showcases for IBM's formidable networking know-how. But they also generated tremendous volumes of ideas - the lifeblood of any forward-thinking company.

Oelwang believes Virgin Unite's work in seeding successful entrepreneurs in places like the Caribbean will have a similar effect on Virgin. "We're breaking down silos and reaching out to entrepreneurs around the world. And they're rewarding us with solutions that have a true global perspective."

Not only is an innovation funnel filled with unique global ideas a boon to the brand -- it's also key to survival in a culturally chaotic world.

In my writing on futureproof brands, I describe five factors that enable brands to survive an uncertain future. The key is mining insights developed from real consumer needs. These needs must be universal, and pressing. Virgin can tap a world of these insights through its global network of budding entrepreneurs.

Lessons To Marketers

1. One idea good, many ideas better -- There is no ego in innovation. Creating a powerful network of idea generators is your guarantee of relevance into the future.
2. Think holistic -- Virgin's Branson Centre For Entrepreneurship Caribbean builds strong local communities and economies - vital to a thriving tourism industry. Are you protecting your golden egg, or leaving its survival to chance?
3. Do good, do well -- The world of business is evolving into one where you do well by doing good. As Jean Oelwang and Virgin Unite prove, this perspective can also help build a potent brand.