Social entrepreneurship, a term first used in literature in 1953 by H. Bowen in his book “Social Responsibilities of the Businessman”, is an altruistic form of entrepreneurship that focuses on effecting positive social change by using resources available to society. Unlike charities, individuals and organisations engaging in social entrepreneurship typically create business models that are self-sustaining, with little or no dependency on grants and aids. This naturally poses a very unique set of challenges for those venturing into social entrepreneurship.
As with any business, social entrepreneurship begins with an idea. When starting on your social entrepreneurship journey, remember to choose a cause that you are passionate about, and strongly believe in. The idea must have a widespread social impact upon the target community, offering a sustainable solution to complex and deep-rooted problems. It is also essential that the idea has inherent merit that will keep the organisation sustainable irrespective of the founder members’ presence. The idea has to develop into a working prototype, mature enough to attract investors. However, until that time, entrepreneurs must be prepared to bootstrap their way upward, with the ability to sustain the organisation until the idea takes off the ground and becomes self-sustaining. Invest in what is critical and relevant for your prototype.
While passion and ideas are important, a strategy is required to achieve the goal. A structured plan that answers the “what”, “where”, “when”, “who”, and “how” and that is created with an understanding of the environment within which the entity functions, enables the entrepreneur to face foreseen and unforeseen challenges, and achieve desired results. Social enterprises have to be creative in setting goals and problem-solving. Plans should also be flexible – so be prepared to think on your toes and build agility by having back up plans.
Often, an entrepreneur may need more skills than she herself possesses. Relevant experience comes in handy, so find the right partners who can contribute the right skills. Get buy-ins from people around you. Friends, family, and people you meet on your journey who share your vision feel strongly about your cause and can lend special assistance in terms of skills or contacts. Additionally, since social enterprises cannot offer the same monetary rewards as for-profit entities, they must be equipped to offer high levels of moral satisfaction. So, always acknowledge people’s contributions, give credit where due, and ensure that everyone feels valued at every step of the journey. Always be fair to people and conduct your business and yourself in a fashion that inspires confidence in the ethical fibre of the enterprise and the entrepreneur.
Visibility & Technology
In the internet and social media era, social enterprises have a unique platform that offers a wide, global reach to a huge universe of like-minded people willing to contribute skills, funds, and other resources. Crowdfunding platforms offer to reach to funds across geographical boundaries. In addition, the Internet allows for the pooling of design resources using open source principles. Collaboration among social sector entities has also become easier. It, therefore, makes sense for entities to invest effort and resources in maximising visibility on the internet and social media platforms.
This last piece of the social entrepreneurship puzzle is not as much about finding donors as in a regular charity, but the ability to create a self-sustaining model that will generate the required monetary resources to not just run an enterprise, but to scale it. The idea is essentially to draw from surplus community resources to give back to communities lacking them. We can have after-school classes in community spaces such as public parks, by educated volunteers from affluent communities who generate the resources required to manage the day-to-day functions of the learning centre. There should be a concrete plan and enough visibility in relevant circles to ensure that funds flow smoothly.
With these inputs, social entrepreneurship is not guaranteed to be smooth, but should definitely become less daunting.
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