Being a social entrepreneur throws you in the middle of two traditionally contrasting worlds; capitalism and socialism. Your mind is strained as you constantly seek a balance between long-lasting social impact and financial sustainability.
Whether within local communities, nationally or globally, social entrepreneurs are dogged changemakers who put the needs of the ordinary citizens above financial gains but understand the need to be financially sustainable to scale their solution to more people. While a lot is known about what it takes to run a successful for-profit business, little is known about how a social changemaker navigates life as a business person. With the help of the social entrepreneurs in our network, we are reflecting on the various stages of social entrepreneurship.
From unemployment and homelessness to healthcare, environment and insecurity, the world has a thousand and one social issues that are being tackled at different levels and scales. Social entrepreneurs are born from the desire to have something different from what is currently accessible.
An important factor that sets apart social entrepreneurs is the ability to conceptualise the change through the power of vision. A changemaker not only desires change, they know what that change should look like.
Deciding to Take Action
At the incubation stage, the change-makers desire to see change is mostly still a personal notion. However, at this stage, you have decided to communicate the need for change to others and take action to bring about the vision.
Theory of Change
As a social entrepreneur, you have had a stubborn desire to see something different. This is the stage where you sit down and sketch a road map to change. This map is called the theory of change.
Dealing with Critics & Discouragement
You are at the stage where everyone is telling you how your idea can’t work and you start to doubt your plans. Changemakers have immense personal conviction and remain steadfast even in the face of discouragement
At this stage, you are most likely alone, trying to convince people within your network and gather social capital to start something. You are constantly making lists upon lists of what to do and who to reach out to. It’s at this stage that you start to find one or two people with aligned interests that are ready to come on board.
Rolling out your solution, reaching out to the first 10 beneficiaries and getting smacked in the face by reality is synonymous to this stage of a social entrepreneur’s lifecycle. However, social entrepreneurs are resourceful individuals who are able to make an impact even with the least of support. This stage requires a lot of physical and mental work as well as documentation of activities.
Gaining Traction and Building Character
Most often than not, the character of the social entrepreneur decides the depth and breadth of the social enterprise as well as the early traction. At this stage, the social entrepreneur has access to more field data, more learning resources and is connecting with other stakeholders.
This stage can be stressful, as you are constantly juggling many roles and a need for personal development. This is where social entrepreneurs begin to lose old friends and gain new ones within the social sector.
Need for Support/Ecosystem Mapping
You are at this stage where you have seen what can be done, have a better understanding of necessary processes and your theory of change is more detailed. However, you are handicapped by lack of resources to scale to more beneficiaries. You need funding, human resource and access to policymakers to direct change.
At this stage, the social entrepreneur is searching for grant opportunities, reaching out within different networks to get barriers moved and crafting models to scale impact and remain financially sustainable while also being weighed by the need to show up for beneficiaries/early adaptors.
In searching for key resources and mapping the ecosystem, social entrepreneurs get new ideas on how to solve the loops identified early-on mostly by leveraging on a cross-disciplinary approach. This is where a social entrepreneur whose focus had been on helping young teenagers get to college by teaching them how to write compelling essays starts to look at collaborating with a counselling organisation or a young professional’s network for emotional support or where a social entrepreneur working towards a more accountable government by holding quarterly citizen’s conference start to build digital tools to get citizens to sign petitions online.
At this stage, you begin to tackle the problem using different but complementary approaches that require new skills. The entrepreneurs also begin to take a more managerial role as more schemes are included.
You are in growth mode and consolidating your different schemes to have a stable enterprise. At this stage, you have a great team, the outcome numbers and you are being recognised for your work. However, this is the stage where other social enterprises doing the same thing and targeting the same audience spring up. This is mostly because you have shown that it can be done.
Away from just outcome numbers, at this stage, you can already see the primary and secondary impact of your work and you are looking to scale to the next community or state or nation. At this stage, you are more of a manager, requesting for reports and forging partnerships.
Scaling takes you back to the Birthing stage, as different communities have different peculiarities and despite having a well-documented work plan that has worked, new challenges, peculiar to the new beneficiaries’ surface.
Throughout a social entrepreneur’s lifecycle, some factors remain; an almost obsessive passion, humility, community-mindedness, empathy, self-drive, transparency and the need to see change. These are required at every stage of the lifecycle as the entrepreneur progresses and sometimes pick up another challenge.