Social enterprise has been growing in recent years, and many entrepreneurs have been looking at solving difficult problems that face the world. One of the major goals and equally, one of the biggest challenges for social entrepreneurs is in understanding how they can have the most impact. One of the iconic names of Social Entrepreneurship is Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. In an inspiring video he speaks about creating social fictions and putting them into practice. Ultimately that is the role of social entrepreneurship:
Scaling Your Social Entreprise
Even though social entrepreneurship is gaining momentum, scaling up has proven difficult. According to Katie Smith Milway (2014) writing for the Harvard Business Review, few social enterprises manage to attain the size where they have a budget of more than $2 million, and fewer still hire more than 100 people. Indeed, Smith Milway (2014) states that:
“Sixty per cent were founded in the past eight years when the movement really began to gain momentum.”
The problem however, is that while social entrepreneurs may often have good intentions, their efforts which may often be low level and lack the ability to achieve scale may not actually do all the good that they could achieve if they took certain approaches that might help them to succeed, which Milway-Smith presents.
Focus on Growing the Size of Impact
One of the important points that is argued in this regard is that organisations need to focus on growing the size of their impact over the temptation to grow the size of their organisation. This changes the emphasis of what an organisation aims to achieve. Growing the organisation in terms of numbers of people will not necessarily deliver the scale that is aimed for. In fact it may make it harder to achieve since there will be more resources to manage, all of which requires leadership attention. Instead it may be argued that the best way to attain scale is to look at finding better ways of solving problems so that those problems cease to exist any more. This means looking at solutions that can be distributed to large numbers of people that solve difficult challenges. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are one example of this as they make education available online for free to people all around the world. Another approach is looking at how the norms of society can be changed to drive success. An example provided in this regard is smoking cessation and the ways in which the public have been encouraged to engage with recycling programmes. All of this has been impactful.
Another recommended approach is to look at ways in which partnerships can bring about scale rather than focusing on organisations. If people collaborate with one another, phenomenal change can be achieved. This means not just looking internally but also working collaboratively with other organisations or other types of partnerships to drive goals forwards. An example that is reviewed in this regard where success has been achieved is the way in which research institutes have worked together with a goal of developing cancer therapies. By collaborating and sharing knowledge and data between different researchers it has been possible to increase the scale of change. This occurs because more minds are put to use in solving the problem, and this leads to a diversity of ideas that look at problems in a new way. Collaborations can be between organisations, individuals, NGOs, government institutes and communities to achieve results.
A third approach to improve success in achieving scale for social entrepreneurs is strengthening the voices of those that the social entrepreneur wishes to help. Offering solutions cannot be effective if it does not take into account the needs of those that will supposedly use the solutions. This means listening to what the potential users have to say and giving power to this. By giving ownership to those that want to solutions for the solutions and by allowing these people to have a say they are more likely to take up the solution and it is more likely to be successful. The reason for this is simple. If a social entrepreneur delivers a solution that fails to take into account the needs of its users, they either will not want to use it or will not be able to use it. Compare this to a situation where all the needs and requirements of the potential users of the solution are taken into account through collaboration, consultation and letting the users have influence over the solution, the needs are far more likely to be met, and uptake will be greater. In this way, scale can be achieved, and social entrepreneurs can be their most impactful.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.