social delta

Consulting and support for social enterprise in Canada

Tag: social value

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.

Ottawa Social Enterprise gives you a chance to celebrate healthcare workers

In the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic, our healthcare workers are heroes. As most of us are quarantining and cooped up in our homes, healthcare workers are on the front lines and risking their lives every single day in order to save the lives of others. So the Ottawa-based social enterprise EcoEquitable decided to find some small way to thank them for everything that they do.

As it turns out, wearing a surgical mask all day every day is hard on your ears. It becomes incredibly painful. That’s the daily reality of the people who are dedicating themselves to helping others. In order to show thanks in some small way, EcoEquitable created a solution—a headband with buttons on it that healthcare workers can hook the mask onto.

EcoEquitable wants to create thousands of these headbands and send them to as many healthcare workers as possible. They will begin with Ottawa hospitals and health facilities, then Ontario, and then all of Canada.

Each mask requires $10 of materials and labour, and they have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to support their work. As a supporter of social enterprises using their skills and abilities for good, Social Delta is pleased to feature this effort. I have just made a modest contribution, and I encourage everyone to do the same, if you can afford to, by visiting their crowdfunding page.

EcoEquitable is a dynamic, women-led charity and social enterprise based in Ottawa. They employ immigrant and marginalized women to transform discarded and recycled fabrics by sewing them into beautiful things like conference bags and corporate gifts. They transform materials, people, situations, environments, perspectives, and the world.

As they write: “We are women crafting a better story.” Social enterprises are constantly providing social value; Social Delta applauds them for stepping up to help in these difficult times. Please support their effort.

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.

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