social delta

Consulting and support for social enterprise in Canada

Tag: social enterprise (page 2 of 3)

Social Entrepreneurship: Are you the One?

It is the New Year, and you are resolved to feel better about working.

You have worked for others, and maybe you feel frustrated by their vision not matching your own. You maybe even have felt that your work was not being recognized? Perhaps you feel that you are doing work that is “beneath you?” Maybe you go to the stores and you are annoyed, perhaps even distraught, by the many frivolous products and services that one can buy? Do you follow the news, and are you struck by how greed and fear is seemingly driving the world to ruin…community by community?

You want to work for something to make the world a better place, and where your vision guides your daily grind. Where you can make a living by helping others live better.

Social entrepreneurship might be the answer.

But is it right for you? Here are seven initial questions to ask yourself.

  1. Can you afford to be a social entrepreneur? Starting a business is hard work, and frequently doesn’t generate a lot of revenue (ie salary) quickly. Moreover, most entrepreneurs don’t work 9-5. They live their business during start-up and beyond. Starting a social enterprise is even harder, and will likely not generate a lot of revenue in the medium term, as the social mission may require lower prices, workplace supports, or even higher input costs.
  2. Do you have an idea for a product or a service? Social enterprise relies on one fundamental concept; you must sell something in the market to generate revenue. Sounds obvious, but selling a product or service means that you need to have demand for that product or service. Creating demand is hard work, and advertising is an inexact and costly endeavor. Your product or service needs to have potential customers and you need to know more about them before you commit to your business.
  3. Can you find a sponsor, a partner, or a host? One way to mitigate the high cost and low salary prospects is to consider taking your idea to a charity or non-profit that shares your values. Rather than entrepreneurship, perhaps intrapreneurship might suit you better. You manage the revenue generating activity, but the non profit organization owns the business and helps share some of the risk. They may even pay you a salary if you can help them find money from grants, reserve funds, or philanthropic supporters to underwrite the new initiative. (to be clear…if you start the business on your own, you’ll still need to find start-up money)
  4. How strong is your constitution? You need to have more than just a “second gear” to weather the rough times. You have to believe that this idea will be what makes you whole. Your must have a passion to make your business work in the face of adversity, illness, competition, naysayers, and budget crunches.
  5. Do you have community support? Social enterprises are different from other businesses, in that the social impact is the main motivator. You can use that social mission to engage talent as advisors, sponsors, mentors, and sometimes even customers. Because of the communal wealth you seek to increase, you have an opportunity to engage the community in your business idea, and your business success. Always look to develop the community around your business; find those who support you, and cultivate that support to help with marketing, design, governance, product development, funding and other key elements to your social enterprise.
  6. Are you humble enough? This sounds paradoxical, as most think entrepreneurs need ego or supreme self-confidence to overcome challenges (and even failures). However, humility is important in social enterprise, as the business should not be about you. It should be about improving the lives of others. You may be recognized (and you may even crave recognition) for the idea and the launch of the business, but fundamentally, the business has to be bigger than you. In fact, if you review your answer to the first set of questions in this post, you’ll realize (I hope) that in order to find meaning in your daily work, you need to be working towards something bigger than you, you need to have a higher purpose for work.
  7. Can you roll up your sleeves and get dirty? Related to this humility is the fact that running a business on your own or within an organization might also require you to be figurehead, shipper, manager, and janitor all at the same time. The grim reality is that most businesses need more manual labour than celebrity spokespeople. If you feel that you’ve been working below your station when working for someone else, be prepared for a dose of humility as you lick your own stamps, prepare your own invoices, manage inventory levels, and take out the trash after you’ve given your great media interview.

So… Are you the One? Is 2016 your year to make work truly meaningful to you?

If the above list of questions leaves you feeling energized and excited then maybe you are destined for a career as a social entrepreneur. If so…identify the skills you may lack, and look for folks who have those skills to support you as you start your business planning and launch. If you need some market research, some advice, or just want to chat confidentially, of course you can contact me here at Social Delta for a free first time consultation.

Selling workshops as a business

Experts like to share what they know.

Social service providers–from farmers to crisis centre staff–undoubtedly have skills we all could/should know, but setting up a training business is high risk.

When delivering workshops, it is very rare that one can charge attendees enough to actually cover the costs of  running the workshop. There are some exceptions, particularly if there is an inherent self interest for the participant (think “how to win in real estate” type of workshops), or if there is some future product (book, consulting, food goods, recipe list, etc) that will sell as a result of the workshop. In this latter case, the workshop can be run at a loss–a loss leader of sorts–on the premise that a future profit can be realized.

There are certainly a lot of non profits who provide workshops for a fee, and some even use a social enterprise model (ongoing, strategic activity with a primary social mission, involving a market orientated transaction). The challenge is that these workshops are almost always backstopped by funding, which makes them precarious businesses when or if the funding disappears. This risk can be mitigated by having multiple funders, but it remains challenging to actually design a self-sufficient workshop business without alternate lines of revenue.

The target audiences for many well-intentioned social service providers are often unable to pay market fees for workshops; elementary to high school youth, marginalized communities, low income, or other audiences either won’t pay or can’t afford it.

For those wishing to sell workshops or training as a business,  you are almost certainly looking at a business established on one of the following models:

  1. Where there is funding to offset losses. (the Charity Model)
  2. Where there is revenue from another line of business designed for a paying audience to offset losses. (the Robin Hood Model)
  3. Where the training leads to the sale of other products or services to that same target audience. (the “Loss Leader” Model)

The reasonable example of a social enterprise which  provides training in a financially sustainable way is a sport club.  These are (typically) non profit organizations with a mission to promote sport (soccer, hockey, jai alai, etc). Team fees cover hard costs (field/ice/court rentals, tournament fees, training, referees, team balls, nets, etc). These social enterprises, however, rely heavily on volunteer labour (coaches, parents, treasurers, etc) to actually function, and there is a natural demand for sports clubs. The learning from the sport example is that the “product” being sold is not only about fitness (’cause all of us could get that by simply running/wheeling around the block). Sports offer other tangible and intangible benefits that parents (and participants) want: comradery , sense of achievement, days off school (!), time with friends, learning new skills, childcare (that is a parent need), being part of a community, etc.

One example of a training social enterprise is The Philippe Kirsch Institute, run by a charity called Canadian Centre for International Justice. The Institute provides legal training to lawyers as part of their mandatory requirement (set by Provincial Bar Associations) for member to take hours  of annual legal training (Continuing Legal Education). This business is functioning, but is not yet profitable, although the feasibility study done indicates that profitability is very possible, given the mandated requirement for legal education in every province.  Again, like the sports example, the demand is already there from a target audience with sufficient money to buy training.

Community centres  or community groups often provide courses on preserving or cooking, and there may be a fee for these. However, the presenter rarely gets compensated with anything more than an honorarium, and the true costs of the business are absorbed by the non profit (the fixed costs like the room, the staff or the marketing or the variable costs like the electricity or food input costs. Good examples of this are the Brainery (in New York, with a branch now in Ottawa). From the private sector, you might find examples like Ottawa Centertown Canning Company, which operates with a strong social mission, and probably a lot of “volunteer” labour from its owner.  You’ll note that their training workshops are “complimented” by products sold at various outlets around the city.  (ie model #2 above)

The bottom line: Consider providing workshops as a result of your business, rather than your ACTUAL business. If you choose the latter, then make sure you are selling to people/organizations that can afford to pay most if not all of the hard costs of the activity and where there is an intrinsic demand in the marketplace.

Help to support fair wages for global garbage pickers

One of Social Delta’s friends, Plastics For Change, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to launch their global platform to support a fair market economy for those on the globe who make a living collecting plastic from the world’s oceans and beaches.

The brain behind this concept is Andrew Almack,  and we’ve been working with Andrew for several months and have been amazed by his knowledge, drive, and commitment to this issue.  Social Delta has no doubt that this business will significantly improve the lives of thousands of individuals living in poverty, while simultaneously help to clean the world’s water of a  growing plastic menace.

Join Social Delta as a contributor to the Indiegogo campaign today, and learn more about how Plastics For Change is a force for good on our planet.

 

When is a medical innovation a social enterprise?

  • An effective device to decrease hearing loss in musicians or audiences.
  • A low-cost prosthetic limb to make mobility possible for millions unable to afford traditional technology.
  • A medical equipment business that makes it affordable to get a used wheelchair, bathroom lift or other medical aid.

These are all innovations that have led to improved health, especially for individuals in our community or around the world with a low income. But which among them is a social enterprise?

  • They all generate revenue through the sale of a product or service. As such, they are enterprises.
  • They all seek to improve health of individuals in our community. As such, they have a social mission.
  • They all require investment of time, resources and assets in order to bring their social benefit to market. As such, they have had to get grants, donations, loans or other forms of start-up capital.

If they walk like a duck, and sound like a duck, then surely they are a duck?

The first case is that of Ear Peace, a company that produces various simple earplugs that reduce decibel levels. It is a product that looks like a thousand others in the marketplace, but its salesman tells me that this private company exists to ensure that people’s hearing is protected. Their slogan sounds altruistic: “Hear Today. Hear Tomorrow.” They are available for about $12-20 a set online. Their website features logos of a variety of non-profit hearing loss agencies and associations. (inferring-but not expressly stating-some form of endorsement)

The second case is Legworks, a Toronto based company that calls itself a for-profit social enterprise. They have developed a low cost prosthetic limb to “help people walk again.” Mobility, they highlight, empowers amputees to more fully participate in society, work, and family life. They offer this technology to those in need “regardless of where they live or their ability to pay.” This social mission is to be achieved by creating a margin on sales in more wealthy markets in order to cover losses in other markets. They note that some 85-95% of the 10 million amputees worldwide do not have access to an affordable prosthetic device, and they recently won the Para PanAm accessibility tech pitch award.

The last case is now a historical case.  STRIDE was a medical aid facility operating in Ottawa, but it closed down because the free rent they enjoyed was lost, and in spite of the value they brought to their customers who paid on a “pay what you can” model, they were not able to generate sufficient revenue to pay for the rent increase. The inventory of medical aids were distributed to agencies across the city upon their closure. The business ran on largely volunteer labour, and dozens of agencies would refer clients to STRIDE to access medical aids needed after suffering an injury or contracting an illness.

All of these businesses could be considered a social enterprise based upon their stated mission. But are they social enterprises? One way to determine whether these are businesses with “a primary goal of achieving a social mission”  is to question where the money goes. Ear Peace appears to create profits for its owners.  Legworks might be profitable, it might not—only time will tell—but it has received financial support from publicly funded bodies and it is unclear where any future profits might go. STRIDE was certainly in the business of social benefit, but it was unable to remain in business without jeopardizing its social mission; this tragedy was precipitated because of a lack of a profit motive.

These businesses are but a few in a large array of those marketing medical improvements, breakthroughs and innovations.  As consumers and social enterprise supporters, we are challenged to determine which of those businesses are motivated by social mission and which simply create better health outcomes for a profit. This is the challenge of trying to define social enterprise. 

What we do know is that if each of these companies were to flourish and grow, then we would have a healthier society, and that is a good outcome regardless of the labels we might apply.

Make it easy for gift buyers to find your social enterprise

SEontario  invites any Ontario based Social Enterprise [SE] to tell them about their products and/or services available this holiday season.

All through the month of December the good folks at Social Enterprise Ontario will be updating their Social Enterprise Holiday Gifts page, tweeting, and sharing via their news section different offerings from great Ontario SE’s like yours.

Please fill out this online form  to let them know a little about your social enterprise and the products/services that you’d like highlighted.

They officially launched the page on Monday, Dec. 1st, 2014.

Get your products and/or services listed on this gift giving directory as soon as possible, as the page will be updated and maintained all through the Holiday season.

If you are looking to buy gifts from social enterprises…be sure to follow @seontarioweb on Twitter, and visit the Social Enterprise Holiday Gifts page for gift ideas.

Social Enterprise: How to make your organization stronger

There are many obvious benefits for a non-profit organization seeking to launch a social enterprise: Unrestricted revenue. Sustainable mission-based programming. Less reliance on grant cycles, reporting and application processes. Building new partners or constituencies.

However, often unseen and frequently unsung, there is also a truly transformative benefit that is realized by organizations considering social enterprise: Social enterprise planning and operations allows an organization to “operate more like a business.” Indeed, the very discipline of considering a social enterprise helps an organization focus its efforts on maximizing social value creation.

But what does it mean to “operate more like a business?

First, it is important to note that conceiving, designing, launching or running a social enterprise does not subsume the organization’s social purpose, nor does it convert all decision making to be predicated on money or financial profitability. By definition, social enterprises exist with the primary purpose of improving the social fabric of our community; therefore a non-profit organization starting a (properly conceived) social enterprise should not jeopardize—but will actually strengthen—the organization’s social mission and create a culture of seeking to maximize social value creation.

I acknowledge that operating more “like a business” might sound wonderful to some, yet heretical to others. To address the perceived heresy, I offer the following list of the beneficial changes that might be expected within an organization considering social enterprise:

  1. Place a value on time. Business thinking quantifies return on investment, and time is an investment. The discipline of business planning helps to quantify and value the time of staff, board and volunteers.
  2. View organizational assets as capital. In a non-profit, the organization’s assets—social networks, human resources, intellectual property, cash reserves, experience, networks—are frequently undervalued and it is worthwhile to consider how these various forms of capital can generate revenue and social impact.
  3. Ensure peak performance. If social impact is seen as “profit” from various forms of capital, then the goal of maximizing social impact creates a rationale to reallocate various forms of capital from one initiative to another.
  4. Create and assess new ideas efficiently. Using a business planning process in the non-business activities of an organization creates a sound framework to filter brainstorming results through research, internal capacity, financial feasibility, strategic planning, funding vs. financing, and measurement lenses.
  5. Understand the cost structure. By allocating costs (and revenue sources) to the “business and non-business” operations requires a solid review of the budget, often illuminating activities that may need review or which are unsustainable.
  6. Make solid investment decisions. Strategic planning can follow a more business-like approach, from an analysis of internal and external strengths and weaknesses to how best to maximize the social return on investments of money, time and resources.
  7. Build dignity into the social mission. A business perspective challenges organizations to price products and services based upon cost, and market ability to pay, not based upon a presupposition that everything ought to be free.
  8. Stop the bleeding. When measurements are in place to document social effectiveness, it is far easier to know when to cancel programs, projects, or products if they are not maximizing capital to create social impact.
  9. Release unwanted inventory. If there are assets that are not being used efficiently to support the social mission, then a business discipline offers a clear rationale to reduce staff, sell a building, cancel a contract, sell an “in-kind” donation, etc.

Through these examples and others, I hope it is clear that “operating like a business” is not a dirty phrase, and does not turn a non-profit or a charity into an unfeeling, profit-driven organization. Social enterprise is a discipline, and that discipline includes tools and concepts that can (and in my experience will) directly benefit the operational and strategic choices made by the whole organization.

Social Enterprise 101: Launchpad or Prophylactic?

There are many courses, webinars and presentations that are available offering an “Introduction to Social Enterprise” for non profit, co-operative, or even entrepreneurs in the private sector. What is the value of these introductory courses? Should you register?

These educational offerings are typically geared for those who are considering starting a social enterprise. They are often marketed as the first step on the path of social entrepreneurship. You may have seen promotions from progressive foundations, business schools, social incubators, shared spaces, or non profit intermediaries. Many of these courses are inexpensive or even free—especially webinars, where the overhead costs are low.

In fact, I offer presentations and workshops ranging from 1 hour to 7 hours providing an introduction to social enterprise definitions, trends, opportunities, challenges and business development processes. I have organized and conducted these trainings with the hope that the many attendees of my sessions would walk away as foot soldiers in an informed army of social entrepreneurs and by sheer mission-driven will would start a tidal wave of social enterprises.

The reality is that I think I have scared many of them away.

The more I offer this sort of course, the more I end up focusing on many of the risks and challenges associated with conceiving, designing, launching and running a social enterprise. I believe strongly that every business should operate with a mandate to provide social wealth in the process of conducting business, yet I still find myself highlighting seemingly dark realities, such as:

  • It is hard to operate a business in a competitive marketplace.
  • The organization needs to be ready BEFORE strategic business design.
  • The business operation must align with—and not compete with—the social mission.
  • Customers are a new stakeholder group and must be considered alongside volunteers, operational partners, staff, beneficiary populations, donors, investors, and board members.
  • Financial (seed) capital to start a social enterprise is hard to find.
  • The reality is that an organization may invest 3-5 years before they see earned revenue.
  • How do you protect intellectual property when you want to share it to maximize social impact?
  • Non profit or collectively run organizations are frequently safe, risk averse places and this can be debilitating.
  • There are legal restrictions placed on charities operating businesses.
  • It is a myth that the businesses social value proposition will immediately guarantee sales.
  • Social impact measurement can be complex, yet is vital to design a social enterprise.

Yikes!

Rather than creating a comfortable nurturing space for organizations seeking to design or build a social enterprise, I paint a picture of the brutal reality: social enterprise is harder than it sounds when initially proposed as a strategic planning retreat, a board table, a coffee shop or at a kitchen table of idealistic changemakers.

I’ve now come to terms with the realization that if I share the honest and accurate details of the stumbling blocks faced by most social enterprises, then the very few that will emerge from these introductory presentations to elaborate on their business idea will truly have what it takes to run a business. They must be unflappable, resourceful, risk tolerant, collaborative, resilient, and passionate.

In fact, I suspect many “Social Enterprise 101” attendees will forget the detailed course content, and will end up learning it all again through their own experience.  Arguably, the value of the introduction course is not, therefore, to prepare a veritable “army” of social entrepreneurs; the value of the course is to stop the individuals and organizations who don’t have what is needed from spending time, resources and social capital on starting a social enterprise.

Perhaps one can say that a good introduction to social enterprise workshop is not a launchpad; it is more of a prophylactic that prevents the birth of enterprises that may not possess the necessary conditions for life.

Social Enterprise Advertising

I welcome any attempt by a social enterprise to advertise their products or services. When I was reading a recent copy of my community newspaper, I was delighted to see an article on Cigbins, a social enterprise started by three creative University of Ottawa students with whom I’ve worked. Their company collects used cigarette butts and recycles them into one of a number of useful products, such as insulation, thereby helping to clean up the scourge of litter while making something of value in the marketplace. The sale of the final product pays for the initial service. Moreover, the company has partnered with a local charity, Causeway Work Centre, to provide employment and training opportunities for individuals with mental health concerns.  This article, written by Michelle Nash at Metroland media, is a wonderful form of free advertising, although of course, getting articles written about your business is not always easy, or replicable.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Carleton Association for People With Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD) took a more direct approach. In the very same newspaper edition, they placed a 6.5″ X 5″ advertisement to sell the garlic that they grow on their farm near Bells Corners. I’ve attached a scan of their advertisement to endorse not only what they are doing, but how they are doing it.

silversprings0001

Who are the social entrepreneurs?

I was asked today to outline the personality types of the typical social entrepreneur. Of course, anyone can be a social entrepreneur, and any entrepreneur (whether social or not) has to have vision, passion, risk tolerance, and an idea for a product or service for which there is—or can be—a market demand.

However, based upon my experience working with social entrepreneurs from the co-op sector, non-profit sector and from the private sector (primarily solo-preneurs), I can reflect on some categories of social entrepreneurs. Do any of these sound like you?

The social worker. Not necessarily a social worker by training, but more broadly a person working for a social cause. This person is characterized by a social mission that is paramount in their life and/or career. They typically work in the public or non-profit sector (and very possibly within a charity) and common passions include one of the following: environment/sustainability, recreation/health, victims of abuse or violence, youth development, homelessness/poverty, or individuals facing social stigma or barriers to employment (mental health, developmental delays, criminal records, etc). They may have years of experience and knowledge about the depth of the social problem that they’ve been tackling. They may not have business experience, but their knowledge of what needs to change, and how it needs to be changed, is significant; they typically are motivated to learn as much about business as they can to address the cause they believe in.

The Epiphanist.  This is not a real word, of course, but this describes the person who, for whatever reason, has a moment in their life when they realize that they need to help others. (ie an epiphany) Perhaps they’ve been diagnosed or survived a disease or accident, maybe they met someone whose story or experience touched them, maybe they read a news article or a non-fiction book, or perhaps they heard a TED Talk or social media plea, or maybe they saw something unjust that struck them into action. The Epiphanist can be any age, and is strongly motivated to use whatever they know or have to make a difference. They have a professional network, but their peers and contacts may not always be sympathetic to their “new” cause. They may also have to initially learn about organizations and networks that are already active in this new field of endeavor, but they are typically willing to partner and learn from those with the experience of the Social Worker (above).

The Seeker is the one who wants to change the world, but initially didn’t know where to start. They might have read about social enterprise or seen a social enterprise in action and immediately felt that this is the career for them. They then set about methodically to learn more about business operations, and to confirm the cause for which they plan to work and make connections. They typically are young and may have come to social enterprise from their disillusionment with community, the economy, or their own career or educational path so far.  Initially, The Seeker may lack business experience (and occasionally distrusts business generally), be impatient, and have a limited professional network. However, The Seeker feels they must do something important, tangible, and purposeful and is commonly quite driven to learn more, or even will take risks to test their business idea as soon as possible.  They grow into the role of social entrepreneur out of that need for purpose.

The Serial Social Entrepreneur has started and run a social business and now wants to apply their experience to a new cause. These folks are rare in Canada as the number of successful social enterprises is limited.  The Serial Social Entrepreneur is an expert in the process of building a social enterprise. They understand—through experience—the technical aspects of social business development such as market research, branding, pricing, retail operations, social metrics, partnership, and/or social finance options. They are able to transfer their business skills from one cause to another cause. They are passionate about social change, and they are aware that social change is complex and interrelated and they often have large and active professional networks.

The Maverick is the guy in high school who never spoke, but then created a mobility aid that made it possible to move a wheelchair up the front stairs. These are the inventors, the outliers, possibly the unsung geniuses of our time. They are sometimes reclusive, sometimes wildly gregarious, but often unpredictable and commonly irreverent. Mavericks make great (social) entrepreneurs, because they are “just crazy enough to try something new” without worrying about how it will affect their social status.  Some even cultivate a sort of unique personality (Richard Branson?) which becomes an element of their “brand.” Mavericks can be any age, and are typically able to think of new ways of solving old problems. They occasionally struggle with collaboration and partnership, but they are the idea generators who then work diligently to bring their social innovation to life.

There are, of course, no rules about who can be a successful social entrepreneur, but in my experience social entrepreneurs are people who care about building a better society, and who see the selling of goods and/or services as a tool to support that goal. Social entrepreneurs can come from any sector, any socio-economic background, any cultural heritage, aged teen to elder. They possess an unscripted mix of idealism, pragmatism, flexibility and diligence. However, they are each very unique, and they are not as easily categorized as I have suggested in this post.

Free downloadable resources now available

Social Delta has just made several resources available to be downloaded for free.

Do you know your entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses? What sort of incorporation is right for your social business? What information might be included in a social enterprise business plan?

Visit our Downloadable Resources page to answer these questions and more.

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