Social Enterprise: How to Balance Dreams and Reality

social enterprise
Social enterprising
Setting up a social enterprise, making a difference to the lives of the underprivileged, giving back to society, championing a cause and making it big are just some dreams that social entrepreneurs harbor. The fact is… we all have dreams but there is also a reality in which we have to work.

Balancing dreams and reality is a tightrope walk for every social entrepreneur. Here are some pointers to help you realize your dreams while you face up to reality…

It’s All about Commerce

I’m starting off with this because, business is a about profit making, primarily and everything else follows. In a social enterprise, focusing on the “commerce” aspect becomes a little difficult simply because the words “social” and “profit” are usually regarded as two extremes that “do not” meet or rather “cannot” meet.

As a social entrepreneur you would do well to focus on developing products and services that are commercially strong, saleable, give value for money and move off the shelves quickly. Look around you and you will find that the possibilities are endless… garbage disposal, recycling, spiraling consumerism, hoarding, struggling handicraft units and artisans are all business opportunities waiting to be discovered!

Choosing Your Target Groups

Choosing your target groups (beneficiaries) who you will partner with to develop products and services is another important factor. In one of my previous posts I’ve identified 7 strategic partners for social enterprises which are: Non-government organizations or NGO’s, Self Help Groups (SHG’s), global, national and even local support networks, rag pickers, prisoners, farmers and artisans.

Making it a policy to work with underprivileged groups instead of setting up a factory is one way of ensuring that you will always generate income for these groups while you earn profits. It will also set you apart from other purely commercial ventures. Choose your target groups carefully as it helps if they already have their own little set up and some resources.

The Carrot & Stick Approach

Working with beneficiaries is just one aspect of social enterprise but getting them to work and produce results in the form of marketable goods is something else. A social entrepreneur I know once highlighted an instance of working with women’s Self Help Groups (SHG’s).

The women were hired to stitch cloth bags and do basic applique work on the bags. When the order was collected it was found that some women had been unable to stitch a straight line and the product was shabby. They were then told to open the bags and stitch them once again. If the bag was opened out twice and still badly stitched, the women would not be paid for the work.

Sometimes this carrot and stick approach is necessary to get the results that you want. Simply assuming that you are working for the betterment of certain groups and that they understand this and will give you their best is not enough. Your dreams may be shattered by their tardy work so spell out the reward and punishment in the beginning itself.

Win-Win Situation

Creating a win-win situation for all concerned is important. Be sincere in your approach to your beneficiaries. Offer training, support, platforms to showcase their work and more importantly give credit where it is due.

“The Hive”, UTMT’s endeavor to promote community-based beekeeping wherein they support, train and partners with beekeepers across the country to produce and market high quality single flora gourmet honey that is available seasonally across India is an example. In the process UTMT provides small and marginal farmers with the opportunity to supplement their income from farming with bee-keeping. The cash counters at up market stores retailing UTMT’s honey are ringing and the farmers are laughing all the way to the bank… win-win indeed!

Corporate Partnerships

Let’s be clear, corporate partnerships are necessary not optional for success in your social enterprise. Corporate organizations are big consumers. They have a number of employees and customers for whom they have to have events from time to time and as such they have more occasions to play buyers themselves.

Thunk in India, a company that has revolutionized recycling garbage to produce trendy products in Bangalore is a case in point. The company aims at partnering with IT services firms to buy waste from them and sell them corporate gifts made of the same material.

Corporate partnerships help you build a certain brand image, leverage your brand visbility and help you find suppliers and buyers in one place, which is why making them a part of your endavor will only help you realise your dreams sooner, bigger and far better than what you had imagined.

No matter how good your intentions or how much you give back to society, a social enterprise that is profit oriented will have to get these aspects right. A focused, profit oriented and driven approach is a big part of the reality of running a social enterprise. Work around it and you will most certainly realize your dreams too!

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