Why social entrepreneurship isn’t confined to start-ups
Daniela Papi-Thornton is the deputy director of the Skoll Centre, at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. This summer she will again be involved in the accelerator week for the Chivas-backed Venture competition, where regional winners of the social entrepreneurship competition will hone their presentations ahead of the global finals in United States next summer. Now that the heats in Dubai are beginning for this year’s competition she tells us what it takes to successfully implement positive change into a business.
ESQ: What are the biggest misconceptions about social entrepreneurship?
Daniela Papi-Thornton: There is an idea that our main focus should be to start more social ventures to solve social and environmental problems. Actually, we also need current businesses, governments and non-profits to shift their practices. It’s about learning what has worked before and replicating it. If not, we waste a lot of effort on tiny start-ups that fail rather than improving the big businesses and organisations that already exist.
Secondly, as well as non-profits, we also need everything in between — ventures that recover some of their donated capital, and some that can fund themselves completely. It depends on the nature of the problem to be solved and the level of disconnect between the market and the possible solution.
Which companies in this field do you most admire?
Elvis & Kresse is a London company that makes luxury lifestyle accessories from reclaimed materials. You wouldn’t know it from their website, but they partner with governments, big businesses, and many others in their mission to help create a circular economy. They have a really strong theory of change, a total commitment to their environmental and social impact, and a clearly definied business plan to keep their efforts going. I was also impressed with The Venture entrants at Skoll last year. They all had great ideas and some already have a lot of traction. It’s not always about the idea, but about how it is implemented and the integrity of the leadership.
What are the biggest challenges that social entrepreneurs face?
They have to balance social and financial pulls. If they don’t have a strong theory of change and a clear mission that all of their team members are aligned to, and if their “theory of income” is not viable, they might get pulled in the wrong direction just to make money. This alignment needs to be very well thought out from the start, but then tested and monitored as the organisation grows.
What could established corporations do to promote meaningful change?
They can hire social entrepreneurs in residence, to bring this thinking into their work. They can also create their own theory of change, improving their social and environmental impact and eventually using their business to tackle a pressing challenge. A great resource is bcorporation.net. Even just doing the B-Corps assessment will help a company see where it can improve.
How can social entrepreneurs develop their idea into a viable business?
Know the problem you are trying to solve. Know who else is already trying to solve it and how your “solution” builds upon those successes and failures. No social or environmental problems are solved from one single entity; there is always some combination of organisations, from governments to activists, which create change. Then you need to ensure your business model is solid and, more importantly, that your theory of change is aligned with making a positive difference.
What are the biggest factors in a winning pitch?
For a pitch you just need to present the above clearly. The key is to really care about the issue.
Tell us what the biggest wins could be in future, in terms of what businesses could do to help change the world in a positive way
Businesses can learn from these outliers — these people who have found a way to do good while creating sustainable enterprises. Rather than just championing them, big businesses can incorporate those ideals: redesign their supply chains, their hiring practices, their ownership structures, and their working practices to become more like these organisations that are indeed changing the world.