social delta

Consulting and support for social enterprise in Canada

Plastic Bricks. Of course.

Every once and a while a story crosses our desk that makes us wonder why nobody had done that sooner.

Nzambi Matee is a social entrepreneur in Kenya who is making construction-grade bricks out of plastic that are purportedly 7 times stronger than concrete.

We always hear that plastics take generations to decompose and break down, and yet few of us might have asked ourselves the question: “In what circumstances do we specifically need something that will never deteriorate?”

The answer is blindingly obvious: buildings, walls and walkways.

We celebrate the longevity of Roman roads, medieval castles, the pyramids, Angkor Wat, and the crypts beneath Paris’s streets. We have been (over) building with concrete for decades to create edifices–from dams to skycrapers–that we hope will stand the test of time.

At the same time we are producing plastic waste that is clogging our waterways and burdening our landfills.

Matee is an engineer who has designed a heat and pressure process to combine plastic waste (of various grades) with sand to create strong and colorful building bricks. A sort of lifesize Lego. She designed and built the machines necessary, and since 2017 her company, Gjenge Makers, has repurposed 20 tons of plastic waste. The factory now creates 1500 bricks a day.

The social benefit of Matee’s work goes beyond environmental sustainability. She is also proactively creating employment for women and youth in Nairobi, including jobs for “pickers” who are often facing significant barriers to employment. Click here for more information, and to view a video celebrating this incredible business venture.

Social Delta celebrates the social entrepreneurs like Nzambi Matee who take equal parts dissatisfaction, conviction, ingenuity, skill and savvy to solve a social problem and meet a market need at the same time.

We are inspired. We hope you are too.

Dutch Social Enterprises: Leading by Example

In the Netherlands there is a national organization dedicated to promoting and supporting social enterprise.

They recently released a report that documents how leading social enterprises in their country are affecting the way business is done. Those social enterprises, by doing business the right way, are leading by example.

I particularly like their analysis which indicates that social enterprise can effect change in three ways:

  • Raising the possible are the activities that show how business can be done responsibly, so that other businesses can choose to adopt those sustainable practices as well.
  • Raising the desirable are the activities that change norms and values in society and increase cultural pressures, which motivates executives to act sustainably.
  • Raising the acceptable are the activities that contribute to higher institutionalized, formal standards, so that it becomes unacceptable not to adopt more sustainable practices.

To paraphrase, social enterprises can show what is can be done, they can challenge existing business practices and they can actually set the bar higher for other businesses to emulate.

The report is full of excellent resources, ideas, and indications of what success looks like for any social enterprise. It offers an aspiration view for social entrepreneurs wishing to grow their social impact.

Social Delta recommends it as inspirational (yet practical) reading. Download it or read it online for free here.

The Ottawa Tool Library needs your help

The Ottawa Tool Library, one of Ottawa’s leading social enterprises, has been evicted from their current location. Their landlord has failed to provide the required notice, and the entire lending library must leave their location at 250 City Centre in Ottawa by December 9, 2020.

On behalf of the Ottawa Tool Library, Social Delta is sharing their press release here.

The tool library is seeking public support to find a new location on the West Side of Ottawa. All lending of tools has now been suspended, but through the generosity of several community partners offering short term workshop space, several previously scheduled workshops will take place in alternate locations in the coming weeks.

The tool library is accepting donations of money to support the emergency move at their website, www.ottawatoollibrary.com , and to help pay for the transport and storage of the 2100 tools in their lending library until a new location can be confirmed. They are unable to accept any tool donations until a new location is found.

This has been a difficult year for many businesses. The Ottawa Tool Library has worked diligently to remain open, operating safely within public health guidelines, and providing tools, advice and support to home do-it-yourselfers, low income residents, and other in the community. This surprise eviction is a significant challenge. They are calling upon the community for help in order to weather the storm and to reopen again in the new year.

Any suggestions of a new location, available secure low cost storage options, or ways to support the continued success of the Ottawa Tool Library should be emailed to the OTL Executive Director, Bettina Vollmerhausen

Good pricing practices for Social Enterprise

Perhaps one of the most common question social entrepreneurs have is how to set prices for their goods or services.

Pricing is a particular challenge for mission-based social entrepreneurs; in a mission-based social enterprise, the consumer is the beneficiary. For example, the product they sell (whether a good or a service)—such as environmentally friendly paints–is serving the social enterprise’s environmental mission directly. For them, good business means not only maximizing net revenue (using a higher price), but also maximizing the number of rainbarrels sold to mitigate water run-off. (using a lower price)

This can be a real conundrum.

However, pricing is not a guessing game, and need not be feared. Here are six basic principles for the new social entrepreneur to keep in mind when setting prices:

  1. Determine your pricing strategy: Are you trying to attract customers in a crowded market? Are you trying to maximize profits to fund social programs? Are you trying to get rid of excess inventory? Are you trying to maximize sales while covering costs? Each of these goals will inform your pricing strategy. Market penetration might require a loss leader, where your selling price is lower than the competion, but also may be below your cost. Freemium pricing allows you to give excess product away if another product is purchased at regular price. Value-based pricing will set a price based upon a consumers perceived value of your product, and will typically maximize profits, but this often requires strong marketing.
  2. Know your costs. No matter what pricing strategy you employ, you will need to know your unit cost. This is calculated by adding the fixed costs (overhead) to the variable costs (typically input costs of goods sold) and dividing by the volume produced. Generally speaking, prices that are lower than unit costs are unsustainable over time (loss leaders, door crashers, freemiums), prices at unit costs (absorption pricing) will sustainably maximize sales, and pricing above unit costs will endeavor to maximize profit (cost-plus, value, or premium pricing). An entrepreneur will always know and understand the unit cost of their products, and their pricing will invariably orbit around those costs depending on their marketing goals.
  3. Understand your competition. If others are selling something comparable to your product, know their prices, and take time to understand their value proposition. Their packaging, their branding and their public outreach will likely be designed to allow them to increase their prices based upon perceived value. If you know your costs, and you have a strong value proposition to compete with them, you can set your price closer to theirs (or above, see next point) in order to maximize revenue, or closer to cost to maximize market penetration.
  4. Be bold. Trust that your product is as good (or better) as any competor. Design it to be both needed and wanted by consumers. Don’t lower your prices out of humility. (only lower prices if it is jeopardizing your marketing strategy goals)
  5. Be flexible. If you lower your prices to below cost, do so with a limited time horizon. You may need to reduce prices if the market changes. Conversely, if demand is stong, you may want to incrementally nudge your product up to increase net revenues.
  6. Follow proven practices. Be aware of the value paradox, where consumers will not see your product as having any value if the price is too low (or free). Consumers see rock bottom prices as an indicator of poor quality or flawed goods. Try some pricing tricks like bundling (where multiple products are sold together), nudging, or decoy pricing. (read this great article on the decoy effect). There are many proven approaches to pricing and researching which best practices can be applied to your business is time well spent.

A word on sliding scales…many social enterprises express an interest in setting prices based upon the consumer’s ability to pay. They often ask about sliding scales or occasionally “pay-what-you-can” options. Although this approach may be seen as a way to promote equitable access to your product, it is a very difficult way to maintain a business, because input and overhead costs rarely are set on a sliding scale.

However, there are approaches that are more sustainable, while still being inclusive. Tiered pricing (also known as price discrimination) allows for a series of stepped prices based upon proven criteria: tiered prices can be set by age, by income level, by profession (like current preferred pricing for front-line pandemic workers), or by services offered (first class, box seats, etc). Social Delta frequently recommends setting the price, and then offering discounts or bursaries to those who qualify. In this approach, the perceived market value of your product is clearly associated with a specific price (which would cover costs), but your business is willing to sacrifice revenue to ensure that it is responding to the needs of excluded customers.

Setting a price for your product requires a clear understanding of your business goals, a rock solid knowledge of your business costs, and an awareness of your competition. There are no rules to setting the right price, and if there were rules, there would be many exceptions to each rule. However, setting price is not a guess, nor is it magic. Setting prices is 90% diligence and 10% good fortune

Social Delta can help you with determine which pricing strategies and approaches to consider to meet your goals.

Build Back Better

These are times when starting or expanding a social enterprise is either a fantastic opportunity or an impossible folly.

There are unquestionably many challenges facing people and communities locally, nationally and globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, and perhaps not entirely by coincidence, we see cracks and fissures appear in the social fabric: polarized and angry democracies, growing income disparities, wildly unsustainable consumerism, incredibly potent and punishing environmental changes, more xenophobia and irrational fear of “others,” increasing intolerance and racism, and a sincere lack of resources as our economies are (and have been) shown to be fragile constructs.

If social action is borne of injustice and and fomenting of the desire for positive change, then surely we must look at new ways of creating a just and sustainable society. Social enterprise is potential tool to make that happen, although starting any sort of business in a pandemic is risky; fantastic or folly, indeed.

I have many thoughts on how we can redesign business and movements and individual actions and responsibilities. However, I believe that my colleague and friend Vinod Rajesekaran, of Future of Good, expressed it brilliantly in his recent article “Stop idolizing your sector and demonizing another.” I quote from him directly:

Let’s build back better by asking different questions. When an organization or a project inspires you, don’t ask about their legal structure. Instead, look deeper and ask about their values, intentions, and actions. Look at the ratio between the highest and lowest paid workers, look at their carbon footprint, look at how diverse their leadership teams and boards are, look at how they act on reconciliation everyday, look at how well they include and give voice to their stakeholders, and follow the money — look at where they save and what they invest their money in. 

One of the first questions I get from aspiring social entrepreneurs is about how (and when) they should incorporate. I always tell them “form follows function” and that they should wait as long as possible before they formalize their social purpose in an organizational structure. Only once they’ve identified and lived by their values, intentions and actions (ie determined their function) will they know the best structure to support their work. In fact, once they’ve started their work in earnest, the form of their business is almost always determined for them.

We are, regrettably, stuck with largely antiquated legislation that enshrines for profit, co-operative, or non-profit structures, myths, and expections. However, we can–and must–push the parameters of each of these structures to create businesses that measurably improve social conditions, justice, fairness and protection of the environment.

In the coming years, we can, person by person, build back better.

The art of getting people to do what they don’t want to do.

Social entrepreneurs operate businesses that create social benefits. Surely, selling services and products in the pursuit of justice, environmental sustainability, and support for the marginalized should be easy. After all, doesn’t every consumer want to make the world a better place?

Well, no, actually.

Most consumers buy to satisfy some personal need. They may be hungry and buy food. They may desire to smell nice and buy body products or perfumes. They may want to be entertained and buy a video streaming subscription. They may want the cheapest price and buy from huge online retailers. Not many make purchases based upon maximizing social welfare.

There are some consumers, of course, who shop based upon a set of community values, but as much as we’d like to think otherwise, these conscious consumers remain in the minority. We must also remember—particularly now during economic challenges for many—that some consumers may not be able to afford to purchase according to their altruistic values.

The art of encouraging citizens to undertake something that creates social value is called social marketing. Whether it is to reduce speeding, or to encourage voting, or to purchase ethically sourced food, social marketers use commercial marketing techniques and concepts—advertising, traditional and social media, direct mail, email broadcasts, word of mouth, customer journey, relationship marketing, etc—to bring about and support social change.

A recently read article provides some useful guidance to anyone trying to convince someone to do something that they don’t instinctively want to do. Summarizing somewhat, the recommendations were as follows:

  1. Break down the activity into small steps
  2. Provide progress indicators (or an understanding of the cost/commitment required)
  3. Provide incentives for completion (intrinsic rewards whenever possible)
  4. Instill competence (allow people to learn or share their knowledge)
  5. Allow for autonomy (people resist being controlled)
  6. Ensure they understand the context/purpose (relatedness).

These recommendations work well if you are convincing a child to get immunized (the example used in the article), to encourage someone to get sober, or to complete a university course.

But how do we use these recommendations to encourage consumers to make the right purchasing decisions? Below is a rephrasing of the recommendations to support social marketing efforts for the social entrepreneur:

  1. Don’t try to explain your entire social value proposition at once. Recognize that consumers may need to understand elements of your mission, not the entire social challenge you are addressing.
  2. Whenever possible, link their purchase to a tangible goal. “By purchasing this product, you’re providing a young person with job training.”
  3. Use loyalty programs, discounts, contests or other “prizes” to reward your customers. Use these extrinsic rewards whenever the intrinsic rewards—like the knowledge that they are helping to support their community—are insufficiently motivating.
  4. Provide your consumers with links to further information, crowdfunding, ways to get involved, or other learning and empowering tools. Think of each consumer as a potential ally in your social mission, and use language, images, and information that give them competence.
  5. Do not undermine your competition, or use negative advertising messages to insinuate to your customer that they need to buy your product over the competitor’s product. If you engage them based upon their own needs and expectations, that provides them with the autonomy to make the (right) choice to buy your product.
  6. Provide context for your social enterprise. It is a challenge to not overwhelm your customer with details while informing and engaging them in your mission. Providing succinct context can help them relate to how their purchase contributes to not only meeting their needs (for example, great coffee) but also the community needs (for example, fair wages). Context links their action as a consumer with your mission.

One last note that we frequently share with our social enterprise clients: Do not assume that your social mission alone will sell your products or services. The vast majority of purchasing decisions are affected by price and market perceptions of quality (which also includes convenience and availability). If you aren’t competing on price and quality, social marketing strategies and activities will have only a marginal effect on consumer choices.

Rock Camp for Girls+ online

Girls+ Rock Ottawa is fueling creativity and community during uncertain times. Social Delta loves what they do, and strongly encourage girls and gender diverse individuals aged thirteen to eighteen to apply for the flagship Rock Camp for Girls+ program online.

In this exciting new digital format, campers will be able to learn their instrument through online learning modules and weekly interactive group video sessions with local music teachers. Camp participants will write an original solo and film their performance, which will be shared at a live virtual showcase. 

The virtual camp will run over the course of eight weeks, from October 7 to November 26, 2020, and is open to No musical experience is required and instruments will be provided to participants who need them. 

Registration is now open and more information about this new Rock Camp for Girls+ format is available on the Girls+ Rock Ottawa website. Special thanks to the Ottawa Community Foundation for their support of this year’s brand-new Rock Camp format and to MusiCounts for providing our instruments to help us keep music accessible. 

About Girls+ Rock Ottawa
Girls+ Rock Ottawa is a volunteer-run community organization that provides music-based programming to foster empowerment, inclusivity and community to girls, women, and gender diverse individuals – all while having fun. The organization also hosts monthly jam sessions where girls can access studio space to practice and hosts a variety of workshops about different aspects of the music industry and creative skills where girls can organize a music show while gaining project management, communications and financial literacy skills.

Get your Ottawa Social Enterprise on the map!

CSED invites Ottawa area social enterprises to take part in the 2020 Spotlight survey! The survey is being conducted to develop an economic and social profile of Ottawa’s social enterprise (SE) sector as a way to build community awareness, understanding and support.

Who this survey is for
The survey is open to Ottawa area social enterprises operated by charities, nonprofits, co-ops and for-profits (with a clearly defined social mission). Aspiring social entrepreneurs who are in the process of starting a social enterprise are also invited to complete the survey.

Why this survey is important
Your participation will help create a collective and common understanding of Ottawa’s social enterprise sector and its impact, and help shine a spotlight on the products and services that are available.

How the information will be used
An aggregate profile will be shared with social enterprises, governments, funders and others to enhance understanding of the sector and inform future support and investment activities. As a way of complimenting their own promotional activities, SEs that complete the survey can also choose to include their products and services in a new business directory that will be launched on CSED’s website.

Complete the survey for your chance to win!
All surveys completed by Friday, September 18th will be entered to win one of three free passes to Unleashed 2020, CSED’s annual social enterprise conference being held on November 19, 2020. The winning names will be drawn randomly and announced in the September issue of SE Connections.

If you have any questions about the survey or need help, please contact: team@csedottawa.ca.

Click HERE to begin the survey!

Ottawa Tool Library: online store now offers tools for sale at great prices

The Ottawa Tool Library (OTL) has just opened an online webstore to sell high quality, tested used tools and surplus “nearly new” inventory from corporate partners.

During the COVID pandemic, it appears that more and more homeowners, apartment dwellers, and others are becoming avid do-it-yourselfers. If that sounds like you, then you should at least take a look at the selection of tools that are for sale through the OTL webstore.

Perhaps you are in the market to buy a push lawnmower, a set of saws, a drill, or some other tool that you’d like to have at the ready whenever you need it.

Visit the new store and take a look at the fantastic deals they are offering on quality, tested used tools. Tell your friends. The inventory is updated regularly, so check back often.

Every dollar earned through the webstore supports the mission of the Ottawa Tool Library (and their parent non profit, the Society for Social Ingenuity). The organization offers programs and activities that provide affordable access to tools; promote self-sufficiency, reuse, and repair; and reduce our collective impact on the environment.

The OTL, of course, loans tools to all who want to become a member. They offer unlimited borrowing of almost any tool you can think of for an annual individual membership of $200. (there are, monthly, family and student rates as well) Click here for more information on membership options.

Finding your passion. Meh.

       At some time in the latter 20th century work became something that identifies who we are. The first question between strangers is often “So what do you do?”  The newest incarnation of this preoccupation with work as one’s purpose is now to aspire to have purposeful work. Expectations and aspirations in the changing workforce appear to tend towards some sort of cross between corporate billionaire and altruistic social worker.  Having your cake and eating it too.

I actually don’t believe in this new religion. I believe that work is an avocation; it is a job needed to pay the bills, put food on the table, and lubricate all the good things in life like health, education, community and love. It is perfectly reasonable to enjoy what you do, and in fact, I recommend making every effort to find joy in what you do, but don’t expect it to define you.

Work…whether as a social entrepreneur, a government bureaucrat, a corporate executive, a teacher, a builder, or a garbage collector…is likely going to be 10% amazing and 90% meh (and of that 90%, some significant percentage may be absolutely awful.)  If you are lucky, you might get to a 25/75 split…

Entrepreneurs are celebrated when they succeed, but 4 out of 5 fail. And those who do succeed often work 60-100 hours a week, and sometimes those hours are spent doing the most banal of jobs: issuing invoices, filing paperwork, responding to confusing client needs, managing your (social) media, waiting in an airport lounge, editing documents,  or even simply buying office supplies or other inputs for your business. For some, each of those tasks might be a gleeful challenge, but for most, they are just the nuts and bolts of business: necessary, unremarkable, obvious—or even punitive—when left undone, and less than inspiring.  Hardly finding one’s passion.

Remember that most value in our communities comes from the informal sector. Parenting, social gatherings, conversations, kindness to a neighbor or a stranger, reading, painting, crafting, cooking, exercise and other hobbies all help to create a strong community fabric and personal value, yet none of them are necessarily well compensated financially, if at all. As my grandfather said, meaning most often comes in simple actions, not grand gestures. For most of us, the informal sector will be where we will leave our mark and where we can reasonably expect to find/create personal joy and purpose.

Social enterprise offers a promise that business can—and should—be conducted with a greater community purpose. This is a lofty and laudable goal. But make no mistake, business is hard work, and some days you’ll have to really think hard about the positive vision you have for the future in order to motivate you to carry on with the present.

Don’t be fooled by a glib instruction to “find your passion” in your job. Instead, choose to work that is meaningful and beneficial to others, do it well, remain diligent, and reward your passions by having a strong work-life balance. I believe that we all have a responsibility to add value to our community, and I believe that social enterprise is one tool that can help us contribute. Nevertheless, never pretend that every daily task as an entrepreneur will fill you with joy and passion.

Be defined by who you want to be, not by solely by where you want to work.

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