Cheat Sheet

Social Entrepreneurship For Dummies

From Social Entrepreneurship For Dummies by Mark Durieux, Robert Stebbins

You want to make a difference in the world, but you don't know where to start or feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done. Here you find a list of ideas for social enterprises — problems needing to be solved, issues needing to be addressed. When you have the passion, translating that passion into a plan can be broken down into manageable steps. Then, when you get your socially conscious business off the ground, you need to keep that passion going.

Critical Issues in Need of Social Entrepreneurial Action

If you feel like you need to do something to make the world a better place, but you aren’t sure what that should be, consider the following four areas. Each of these is a critical issue currently boiling up in importance globally, nationally, and, in many cases, locally:

  • The environment: Whether it’s industrial or agricultural pollution, carbon dioxide or methane emissions, the disappearance of rain forests, or the draining of your local wetlands, the environment is under siege just about anywhere you look. Some people see a division of this category into the built environment (for example, buildings and energy sources) and the natural environment (which includes air, water, and other natural resources).

  • Healthcare: The fierce nature of the healthcare reform debate in the United States reveals how fundamental and personal healthcare is to many people. All kinds of healthcare needs are no doubt pressing in your own community. In your home country, consider issues of malnutrition, lack of access to care, and poor living habits. Go beyond your country’s borders and you find any number of desperate health concerns in dire need of attention.

  • Immigration: The world is full of migrants, immigrants, and refugees. Globalization has created more cross-border market opportunities, and more people are moving between countries seeking work than ever before. This often creates cultural friction between the newcomers and the established population, which, if left unchecked, can lead to conflict and even violence.

  • War and peace: Yes, the Red Cross (www.redcross.org), Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), Doctors Without Borders (www.doctorswithoutborders.org), and other organizations are important actors in striving to reduce misery among wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, and war-torn populations. But they can’t do everything. Smaller players play an important role, too, and may be able to give more personal attention, especially in negotiations. This work is high risk and high stress, but the rewards can be just as great.

Translating Your Entrepreneurial Ideas and Passion to a Social Enterprise

You have the drive, you have the compassion to help the world — so how do you turn that energy into a successful for-profit or nonprofit enterprise? Here are five steps for transforming your vision into reality:

  1. Identify a social problem that you’re passionate about and feel a sense of urgency for.

    What excites you, ticks you off, makes your conversation animated and vehement? Only a true and deep passion can sustain you and your enterprise over the long haul. Choosing your area of focus shouldn’t be a matter of intellectual calculation — it should come from your heart, from what stirs your emotions.

  2. Develop a plan for solving the problem you’ve identified.

    Your initial plan will be rough and preliminary, sure, but you have to start somewhere. As you prepare this plan, you may want to consult with one or more people who share your passion. The idea is to put something on paper that is sufficient to show potential collaborators in an initial meeting. As you craft it, keep in mind that you’ll be selling your plan to others whose assistance you may need, to family and friends whose opinion of your project you value, and last, but not least, to yourself.

  3. Decide whether to try to solve this problem alone or with the help of some other people.

    If you’re going to need help, think hard about who might want to help you. Who shares your passion and sense of urgency about the problem? Do they have time to commit to helping you solve it? Will they bring some critical expertise (ideally of a type that you lack)? Are they likely to be team players? Do they work well with others? Or is the issue something that you alone care about, and you’re willing to work as a one-person outfit until you can convince others to join your organization? If you go the latter route, still seek the advice of others as you work through the startup phases — even if other people aren’t as passionate about the issue as you are, they can offer useful advice along the way.

  4. Call one or more meetings to discuss your preliminary plan.

    Your goal is to come to some sort of agreement on a more final plan among those who want be involved in (or merely advise) your evolving social enterprise. In other words, your draft plan, conceived in Step 2, is your starting point — now it needs to be fleshed out. Bear in mind that your plan will change, and it’s possible that not everyone will like it. Some people who seemed interested may drop out because the project isn’t turning out to be what they thought it was going to be. It’s up to you to judge how to balance the evolution of your plan against the diverging interests of potential partners. You have to come to an agreement on a draft of the plan among those who stick around. This step may take a series of meetings, so give yourself time.

  5. Execute your plan.

    With your plan in hand, you’ve either developed a road map for yourself to follow that includes input from several other perspectives, or you have a significant consensus among a group of people ready to work with you on setting up a social enterprise. Now it’s time to put your plan into action! But be adaptable. Be agile. As you execute your plans, remember that the map is only that and never the territory.

Secrets to Becoming a Successful Social Entrepreneur

Each successful social entrepreneur is unique, and they all travel their own particular paths to success. However, research has uncovered many traits shared by most if not all of them. Cultivate these qualities in yourself and your organization to boost your potential success:

  • Achieve a clear understanding of the problem in question and formulate a clear mission with which to solve it.

  • Have strong compassion for the target of the mission.

  • Maintain a sense of urgency in realizing the mission.

  • Create a well-conceived initial plan for realizing the mission.

  • Develop a capacity to work with people, and work tirelessly to persuade and organize them to help realize your mission.

  • Never give up — redouble your efforts and persevere when the going gets tough. But also know who your staunchest supporters and mentors are, and seek them out when you need a boost!

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