Most people, at some point in their life, have a ‘light bulb’ moment. An idea for a business that pops into their head that they think could change the world. These ideas often never materialise, but sometimes, when the combination of good timing, having the right people in place and determination to succeed come together, that’s when incredible businesses are launched.
‘Light bulb’ moments have historically been responses to making consumers’ lives easier or filling product gaps that exist. Cars were created so people could travel easier to jobs which, due to the industrial revolution, might have been located outside of their hometown for the first time. Before the game-changing iPod was invented, people were limited to listening to a single CD or tape when they were out and about. The first iPod held over 1,000 songs and changed the way we listen to music.
Game-changing businesses aimed to meet people’s needs, but also, most importantly, they aimed to make money. Businesses and inventions without social value can argue that they make the world better. Everyone’s life would be immeasurably harder without email, GPS tracking, the internet and the touchscreen glass that’s used across all our smart devices. And what about how the businesses that advance healthcare such as drugs to treat cancers and birth control, have changed the ways we look after ourselves?
Any business can argue its end result has a positive impact. However, social entrepreneurship identifies a social problem and then creates a business model to solve it. These businesses are less focused on their profit margins and are more concerned with being socially responsible. Here, we’ll be looking at what social entrepreneurship is, why people start businesses with a social conscience and an example of a couple of social entrepreneurs that we work with.
What exactly is social entrepreneurship?
The term ‘social entrepreneurship’ can be applied to any business that makes a positive difference in the world. People who are social entrepreneurs often launch ventures called social enterprises; businesses that aim to solve a problem that impacts people, communities or the environment. These types of businesses have seismic potential to change the world, as the most comprehensive data reveals there are around 11 million social enterprises across the world.
As well as social enterprises, the social entrepreneurship label can also be applied to corporate companies who decide to donate a sizeable chunk of their profits to support a cause they’re passionate about. Often corporates will choose to support a cause that’s aligned with their business. For example, a restaurant chain may choose to support a local organisation that runs food banks or international organisations that run programmes to help stop people from going hungry.
Social entrepreneurship doesn’t fit into one neat box, limited to one type of business. Sometimes social entrepreneurship doesn’t even cover a business at all, as this approach to solving problems the world faces can also covered by ventures like impact investing; investments which aim to make impactful and measurable change in the world, as well as turning a profit.
The stories behind social enterprises
We’re fortunate to work with some incredible social entrepreneurs who do amazing work to help change the lives of the people they work with. Our accelerator programme delivers a training programme that teaches early stage social entrepreneurs how to structure, pitch and market their social enterprise to help them to have as big an impact as possible. Around 45% of all social entrepreneurs are female, as more women choose social ventures over running traditional, corporate ventures.
One of our recent accelerator finalists, Linda Siglia runs Tuwe Bora, a social enterprise that offers employment opportunities for women living in Kajiado county, Kenya who are unemployed or have been imprisoned. They create and sell evening and casual wear, and offer women their first step into a job in fashion by providing women with training and paid work. Their clothes are playful, stylish and produced sustainably.
Another founder we supported through the programme is Esther Mueni. Esther runs Knock Knock, a business that provides deaf people with technology that conveys their sound environment to them. Originally wanting to provide a solution to help deaf people navigate the hearing environment in an inclusive and accessible way, the business has grown to also become an advocate for Kenyan sign language and marks deaf awareness campaigns with activism and community engagement.
Why do people become social entrepreneurs?
There’s been a growing trend for people to feel less satisfied with a job that just offers a hefty paycheque and a good retirement plan. More and more of us, likely impacted by the pandemic forcing us to re-evaluate what truly matters, now want careers that offer flexibility, opportunities to work with people who inspire us and the chance to make a positive difference in the world.
Starting your own business allows you to build something from the ground up. You choose the foundations; your first hire, your mission and values and your aims. You also get to choose the impact your business will have on the world around you. With a news cycle that conveys the urgency needed to solve some of the world’s biggest environmental and social problems, more people are aware that they have a role to play in making the world a better place. For people who are passionate about providing support for or solution to a social, economic or environmental issue, being a social entrepreneur provides an opportunity to make this passion your full-time job.
Starting a business is one of the hardest things someone can do. 60% of businesses fail in their first three years and it takes around the same amount of time for a business to be profitable. To stick to your guns when you’re spending all your free time, money and energy on something that has a good chance of not working, you need to have faith and belief in your idea to help keep you going. Having a social purpose and knowledge that you’re helping solve a problem that you’re determined to address is a surefire way to keep you going when times are hard.
The future of social entrepreneurship
One of the aims for social entrepreneurship is for it to become the default, with the word ‘social’ removed and all new business ventures having some form of social value. As more funders and accelerator courses such as Her Me Know form, more potential social value business owners will be given the support and connections they need to start their dream businesses.
Our hope for the future of social enterprise is to see more powerful, incredible women taking the leap of faith to start their own social enterprises. The success of our programme shows just how many amazing, and potentially life-changing ideas are being worked up into business plans and how, by giving women the right support and training, we can help create the social entrepreneurs of the future.