social delta

Consulting and support for social enterprise in Canada

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.

Redefining Success

“What this pandemic shows…is that we can stop everything in a moment’s notice. I hope that rather than panic and try to rush back to normalcy, people will reflect on what it is we should leave behind, rather than resume.”

Journalist Sam Blum expressed this hope in a recent article in VOX magazine. It complements the UN aspirations to “Build Back Better, ” which is “an approach to post-disaster recovery that reduces vulnerability to future disasters and builds community resilience to address physical, social, environmental, and economic vulnerabilities and shocks.” (Read the full resource here)

Everyone–and let’s fully grasp what that means–everyone on the planet is affected by this pandemic. The numbers of deaths and illness may be small relative to the global population of over 7.8 billion people, but they are significant and scary. Every house and refugee camp, every person rich and poor, and every community urban and rural are having to adjust what they do, how they do it, and how to adapt to fear and uncertainty. This global response is unprecedented. Even the world wars were not fought on battlegrounds in every country. Previous global health scares in the last century (AIDS, SARS, MERS) seem to have had far less of an immediate impact on every family. The Spanish Flu had a similar reach…and far more deaths associated with it…but it existed at a time of limited global interactions and travel.

COVID-19 has made apparent the stark disparities in our world. Front line workers–from grocery clerks to health professionals to law enforcement–are forced to work and put themselves at risk for a greater good. The poor (whether relatively poor in developed countries or abjectly poor in other parts of the world) are at a sincere disadvantage as they simply can’t afford to not work, nor to socially isolate. Some ethnic groups and age groups have reportedly been disproportionately infected. Political figures are disguising their authoritarian tendencies behind the shield of “protecting their people” by applying emergency measures, or even boldy proclaiming power. Access to information, in spite of the ubiquitous Internet, has been confusing as conspiracy theory and mis-information is mixed seamlessly with the data-driven health edicts and expert, reasearched opinions.

For those who have health and wealth, the pandemic creates a mind game that might question one’s purpose. For those who are struggling to just get by, the pandemic is a frightening daily reminder of our own frailty and mortality.

Economies are opening up now; some are taking modest steps, other are more bold. Health professionals warn of a second wave of infection and each society or community must weigh the risks of infection against the necessity of employment and liberty.

Social Delta, with many others involved in helping to create just societies in which work has both individual purpose and community benefit, sees an opportunity to indeed “build back better.” Our businesses must be more focused on meeting the basic needs of citizens: health, education, nutrition, sustainability, justice and minimizing poverty.

Our global economy has had a heart attack and we collectively have the power to resuscitate it and nurse it back to good health.

There will undoubtedly be many changes in the way we define work, where we work, the value we place on family and social interactions and security. Indeed, if we redefine success such that we focus on what is good for us as individuals living in community, then the future after the fear may well be more humane, forgiving and sustainable.

Don’t go old, go ancient.

Chicago has a water problem. Sections of the city flood often, and even more often in recent decades as climate change has intensified rainstorms at the same time that the city’s concrete engineering marvels have created an impervious crust on the earth.

It was shocking to learn that Chicago is actually at the “top” of two water routes to the sea. Lake Michigan drains through the Great Lakes and into the St. Laurence River and empties into the North Atlantic. At the same time, a mere 10 kms from Chicago’s downtown core are the headwaters of the Des Plaines River, which flows southward and into the Illinois River which eventually joins the mighty Mississippi at St. Louis and eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, historic records indicate that before Chicago existed, it was a swampy area of land that frequently flooded, allowing for an actual waterway that bisected the continent. No wonder that they have water problems.

Why does this matter to social entrepreneurs?

Well, Chicago (and in fact many cities prone to flooding around the world) has spent billions of dollars on infrastructure projects like tunnels and reservoirs to, as one article put it, “bottle rainstorms.” However, there is a strong movement worldwide to think about ways to work symbiotically with nature rather than to fight to control it. “Sponge Cities” is a term that refers to urban designs that help absorb water. There are multiple ideas borrowed from the past: encourage the development of urban parks that can flood during monsoon seasons, use permeable pavements, plant trees that can soak up (and even clean) waste water, or develop rooftop and backyard gardens to absorb rain where it falls.

To the social entrepreneur, this spells opportunity. But don’t look to technology. This article highlights that we need fewer “smart cities” and more common sense in our design. Indeed, we should make “dumb cities” that use ancient techniques to work with nature to prevent catastrophe. Shoshanna Saxe of the University of Toronto, states the notion clearly:

“For many of our challenges, we don’t need new technologies or new ideas; we need the will, foresight and courage to use the best of the old ideas,” Saxe says.

So, if you are a social entrepreneur in spirit and you are looking for a product or service to sell that will significantly improve our co-existence with a changing climate, consider reviving and adapting old ideas. After all, there are literally BILLIONS of dollars available to prepare for and manage rainwater, flooding, sewage treatment and natural disasters.

Don’t consider creating an app to register the depth of the problem, consider (re)creating and selling a product that addresses the root causes.

Marketing for social change

I was reviewing my notes from 2007, and unearthed this short paragraph:

For social marketers intent on changing individual behavior and the opinions that guide behaviors, we can—and must—apply new thinking. Simply trying to project a new opinion will be futile. We must identify the accepted opinions in order to identify a lubricant to merge the new idea into the “flywheel” of old opinions. Indeed, to help promote social change, we must not only convey the message, but also provide the assistance to help people reconcile their own opinions (beliefs, actions, ideals) with the new.

Social marketing is a related cousin to social enterprise, of course. Where social enterprise is a business designed to create positive social change, social marketing is the use of commercial marketing techniques to create social change.

As such, this recalled note has direct relevance to all social entrepreneurs. Indeed Social Delta has worked with many clients to adjust their marketing strategy to ensure that they don’t only “push” messages to their target audiences, but that they learn more about their audience before defining their key messages.

The notion of a “flywheel of old opinions” is as pertinent today as ever it was. We all live with a sustained set of rote actions, cultural traditions, family learning, and resistance to change. There is inertia to these beliefs, and in order for a new idea to take root, social entrepreneurs need not fight against that inertia, but rather lubricate the insertion of the new idea into the old.

We need to have the ability to let off the clutch slowly to merge the new idea with the speed of the lives of our audience.

Making the circular economy economical

We waste a lot in our society.

Perhaps during this time of social isolation you are starting to realize how much we waste. Wasted food. Wasted plastics. Wasted clothing.

The market economy has evolved such that for many products it costs more to fix them than to buy a new one. (yes, I’m talking about you, my electric kettle) It seems that everything that is old, then, is discarded. This is a ridiculous paradigm. A religion of waste.

But there are awesome ideas that are growing as we increasingly acknowledge the old adage that one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.

Of course, the venerable thrift store has been at the forefront of the retail circular economy for generations; they accept unwanted clothing, magazines, furniture, medical goods, and with a bit of sorting, re-sell (typically) at a modest price anything that seems like it could be sold.

Leading lights in the growing circular economy.

Unbuilders is a company in British Columbia that will unbuild your home. They reclaim everything, including the old growth timbers that were used wantonly at the turn of the 20th century as the forests of BC were cut down to create the buildings of Vancouver. There is money in those timbers, but instead of helicopter logging to get to new (old) forests, they are simply taking the time to remove the nails from wood that has been stored in the walls, rafters, flooring and fixtures of a house for the last 50, 60 or 100 years.

Tool Libraries are showing up across the country. Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, St. John, St. John’s, and so many more places have active tool libraries. The principle concept is that tools can be borrowed like books. Less buying, more sharing. However, the ethos that drives the people who are creating tool libraries is also creating repair cafes, expert coaching on repair and up cycling, and strong commitments to repairing, or taking apart and recycling old tools.

In Ottawa, STRIDE accepts donations of used medical equipment. They have a team of experts to repair, rebuild, recondition and clean the wheelchairs (both manual and electric), the medical beds, the walkers, and the many assisting devices that are built to last far longer than our frail bodies will. These vital tools for health are then made available at a fraction of the price of new.

What should we expect?

The next logical step is for every business to start building products (homes, tools, cars, food packaging, clothing, etc) with the intent that they can be easily “unbuilt” and that the materials can be reclaimed, reused, repurposed. It is happening in some cases, but it needs to happen more.

Human have the creativity to create amazing products, but even the most ingenious rarely consider the full life cycle of every component part.

Everything should be built so that they can become the inputs for future goods. Why cut down more trees, mine more minerals, or create more polymers when we can conceivably create an ecosystem where any of those inputs can be used multiple times?

What can you do?

If you are an aspiring social entrepreneur, consider looking for waste in our society and design a business around that waste as the principle input into your product. And then…try to design your product so that when it has served its function, it can be easily “unbuilt” to become someone else’s treasure.

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