There’s nothing much different from starting a “classic” for-profit business, bar a few critical points. And these are crucial! A Social Enterprise can have a great impact on the community of your choice.
1) What is a Social Enterprise?There are many definitions of social enterprise. My favourite one is about “aligning your commercial objectives with your social purpose”. You will be making a profit from a service or a product that improves a community’s prospects, involving relevant communities, such as customers and beneficiaries, when you make decisions. You shouldn’t harm anyone or anything at all in the process, and you should reinvest some of the profits into that community. What does it mean to you?
2) Your vision
How will the change look like once you’ve done what you think you should do? Why should your customers care at all? How will your products and services positively impact upon them? It’s not about you only, it’s about them.
3) What you sell
Think about the products or services you want to sell: are they truly useful and equitable? Do they bring any human, cultural, environmental value to your customers?
Think for a minute about diamonds and water.
Diamond mining doesn’t serve anyone, especially not the country where it takes place. It wastes a lot of water and resources, exploits workers, creates landslides, deforestation and pollution. It benefits only a few organisations that get huge margins at the expense of local people. Diamonds have a huge pound value, yet they are a disaster for the social and environmental economy.
Water, on the contrary, is extremely useful but has a poor monetary value.
Look at what you could do already: create a system that purifies water for people to drink and cook with in disadvantaged areas; create a tool that prevents waste of water in the built environment; Teach people to make better use of water, and let them teach others in turn, invent a re-usable or upcycled tool that reduces your usage of water (and doesn’t need much water to be produced!).
4) How you make decisions
A product only isn’t what makes a social enterprise. You need to involve your beneficiaries, your clients and your stakeholders, in your decisions. A social business involves a democratic process. Let your beneficiaries have a say. Be accountable to your staff and associates. You can also work with people who are “hard to reach”, or find it traditionally difficult to access employment.
5) How you collaborate
Make sure you connect first with value-based networks, individuals and organizations that further your purpose and vision. Then think of a robust supply-chain made of other social enterprises. Connect with members of your regional social enterprise network, such as Social Enterprise London www.sel.org.uk , for instance.
Why is this important?
Imagine you produce an educational game for children who can’t hear or talk, that would help them improve their literacy and numeracy. You would involve them in the process and your outcome would be to improve their prospects in life. But what if you were to manufacture this game in a Far East factory, using toxic ink, paper from non-renewable forests, producing a lot of carbon emissions, and filled with underpaid or under-age staff… Wouldn’t that be contradictory? Doing good here, but turning a blind eye on the unsustainable way it has been made there?
For more examples of great social businesses run by women, visit www.ogunte.com