Social entrepreneurship is going from strength to strength as people are beginning to pay more attention to how challenging issues can be resolved through this means. Business people are even moving out of companies solely based on adding value to people’s lives in other ways and towards social entrepreneurship instead. Social entrepreneurs can change the world, and they are growing in numbers. Information availability and accessibility to better understand problems faced by people in difficult situations is part of the reason for that. There is also a trend towards people having a greater interest in “helping society” generally. However, understanding how social entrepreneurs can scale impact the most effectively can still be difficult.
As Katie Smith Milway (2014) of the Harvard Business Review agrees that the social entrepreneurship sector is “hot” but asks:
“Are social entrepreneurs stoking the right kind of growth? With so many start-ups, are social entrepreneurs at risk of creating well-intentioned but fragmented efforts that won’t ultimately change much?”
Smith-Milway (2014) suggests that there are ways in which to work to scale growth so that social entrepreneurs do can have greater meaning and scale their impact to be able to target larger populations and offer even more value. One way in which she suggests that this can be done is by focusing on “scaling impact not organisations”. She argues that organisations are struggling to do this. An example provided is that of youth unemployment, where after 10 years of hard work 2,000 disconnected kids have been helped by Year Up into jobs that actually offer a living wage. This is shown by Smith Milway to be the tip of the iceberg, since in fact in the USA there are 6.7 million young people that are not at school and who are also out of work. And this is one of the most successful organisations in this area. This indicates the great importance of being able to scale up.
Adding more people to the organisation and making the organisation bigger is not the answer. Instead, argues Smith Milway, there is a need for social entrepreneurs to find ways to provide services and products to a broader range of people. One such approach that is argued to be promising is that of MOOCs (massive open online courses) since these have the potential to offer a lot more to a lot more people than small, locally-based approaches. Other options that are hailed as a success in terms of scaling the impact are mobile apps that provide information to farmers on the market and weather, helping them to improve what they do, tactically and operationally. Such approaches aim to change the way people think about how business can be done or how education can be offered. They change the paradigm associated with the situation, and offer social change that can improve many lives at once.
Another important approach for scaling impact according to Smith Milway, is focusing on collaborations between organisations, not just narrowing the perspective to one organisation. One organisation alone clearly will be unlikely to be able to make such a fundamental difference as an organisation that is working in collaboration with a range of different other organisations, all of which have different skills, competencies, abilities and knowledge to bring to the solution. The example is provided by Smith Milway of how modern cancer advances come into being, with teams working across continents from different organisations and sharing information for the common good to be able to drive a solution.
A different way of scaling up the impact of social entrepreneurs can be achieved by “amplifying” the voices of those are to be helped, opines Smith Milway. Giving power to the voice that needs the change can be more effective than simply offering the change on its own. One very interesting example of this is provided by Smith Milway who explains that offering education to women and girls in Afghanistan is one thing, and it is a positive step, but it is even more important for those women and girls to be able to speak up and support these innovative approaches that can help them as well. Without that happening it can be hard for organisations to achieve the scale that can provide the impact they wish to bring.
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.