Social Entrepreneurship: Sustaining Biz In Tumultuous Times
"These are trying times, and while many may feel it is not a good time to think of expanding a social venture, I say it is the best time to initiate new ideas," Sanjay Sehgal, Founder, Chairman and CEO of MSys Technologies believes
Photo Credit : spacesworks.com,
Imagine a world where energy is used effectively, where resources are utilized efficiently, where there is no hunger, and where people live in harmony with each other and their environment. This is the world that social entrepreneurs envision. It may sound utopian to many but there exists -few such minds who desire to create a just and sustainable world.
I remember during my recent visit to India (Bengaluru) I heard about a local NGO that was running a drive to collect rice. The NGO sheltered around 20 to 25 blind children. Their idea was to reach out to the gated communities asking each house to contribute a bowl of rice. By the end of two days, the NGO was able to collect enough rice that could feed the children for more than a year.
However, no matter how successful the drive was it failed to create momentum. Therefore, the question that begs to be asked is how we can make sure that these drives create momentum that not only can sustain and help people but also generate profit and create opportunities to invite stakeholders’ trust.
It is arduous task, I agree. But social entrepreneurship is not about making the world a utopia; it’s about solving real-world problems through market-based solutions.
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” Says Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka, and the man who coined the word ‘Social Entrepreneur’.
A similar revolution was pioneered by entrepreneur and visionary Dr. Verghese Kurian deemed the “Father of the White Revolution”, which transformed India’s dairy industry. Kurien's career was dedicated to streamlining effective management and distribution strategies. The operation flood drive initiated by him led to the birth of the largest food product business in India – Amul, which has reported a sales turnover of 610 billion Indian rupees in 2022.
Even though there are shining examples of successful ventures, and a host of opportunities, social entrepreneurship still fails to make a mark especially in a thriving country like India.
The problem lies in the lack of awareness. Here are the three most common misses:
i. How to monetize the solution
Though social ventures these days are actively adopting hybrid versions capable of delivering a sustainable business model, these ventures would also have to ask about the impact and whether the ability to pay in the target demographic fits with their funding aspirations.
ii. How to foster partnerships
The key is to identify strategic partners early in the venture journey, it is what will help them grow. Like any other business, effective partnerships are crucial for a social organization to succeed as well. However, often what is noted is that social entrepreneurs give in to the pressure created due to different objectives of partnering corporations.
iii. How to manage transitions
Transitions can be hard but are part and parcel of every venture. Navigating when to introduce a process is one thing, shifting the core activities and focus of the organization is a completely different ball game.
Therefore, as a social entrepreneur, it is important to remain responsive. Both when your idea metamorphoses through various stages like a startup to growth to lead to a complete business model transition, and when it is forced to change.
The looming recession over the US and one that has already hit the northern hemisphere is the most practical example of how as a social entrepreneur you need to buckle up for this forced transition.
“US recession likely in 6 to 9 months from now: JP Morgan CEO”
These are trying times, and while many may feel it is not a good time to think of expanding a social venture, I say it is the best time to initiate new ideas.
I have seen how some of the most successful businesses started during the most adverse times and have grown up to be the leading organizations in their respective fields.
Profit vs. Impact
Though you may contradict my above statement saying there is a difference between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, and I do agree with that as well. The goals are different.
But do you know as per an article published by the Yale School of Management, entrepreneurs focused on solving problems can grow their businesses faster and have a bigger impact than any other organization?
As a trustee and being at the helm of activities of Heartfulness Education Trust, an international volunteer-based non-profit organization with a presence in over 130 countries, I can very much relate to the above statement.
Being a volunteer-based organization meant none of us were working towards making a profit, yet as an organization, we were able to not only sustain but thrive and reach a level where today Heartfulness as an organization houses the world’s biggest meditation center and caters to millions of students worldwide in providing holistic education. And all of this was made possible by a team of volunteers who were driven by the idea of making society a better place to live in and not by profits.
Tips to Sustain your Business
Here are my takeaways as a trustee that will help you scale up your social venture:
1. Identify the right source of funding
Especially because of the tumultuous market condition, it becomes even more important to identify the right source of funding. For a social venture, you will have to look at multiple funding options.
One good method is to look beyond government and institutional grants and explore other revenue sources like individual philanthropy, impact investing, earned income through sales, etc.
2. Forecast your business estimates
Many a time, it has been seen that social entrepreneurs tend to underestimate the cost and timeline of their ventures. When you are putting together your business plan, make sure you include a comprehensive cost analysis and allocate sufficient time for each activity. This will help you avoid any unforeseen expenditures and delays in your project timeline.
3. Align funds with goals
As a social entrepreneur, you may tend to cross-subsidize your programs from one funding source to another. While this may help you in the short run, it can be detrimental to your business in the long term. It is important to align your funding sources with your organizational goals and objectives.
4. Network with other social entrepreneurs
The reason we as Heartfulness Organization survived a recession and other downturns was that we were able to establish a strong network of entrepreneurs ready to invest time, money, and energy in social causes. As a sole entrepreneur you may have difficulty surviving, but when you build your network, the chances of sustenance increase.
In short, social entrepreneurship is the need of the hour, day, week, and more. And if you have an idea that can make society and world a better place to live in, go for it. These trying times are
the best time to start something new. All you need is conviction and perseverance to see your idea sail through.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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