Today, RingCentral wraps up its social entrepreneurship miniseries with a guide to being a great social entrepreneur.
Whether you’re a thriving small business owner looking into new opportunities or a fresh addition to the ranks of maverick industrialists, you need to know what makes a social venture successful if you really want to establish a for-profit instrument of change. While you can certainly pursue a social enterprise the way you would any other business, there is no denying that you have a lot more at stake. With so many people (and communities) depending on your success, failure can be devastating. This is why you need to be absolutely prepared for the challenges of building and running a social enterprise.
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What is a social entrepreneur?
To put it simply, a social entrepreneur is someone whose passions for entrepreneurship and social change intersect. They’re someone who sees a problem and wants to help solve it by creating a new business to meet those needs.
Before you even begin to build a social enterprise, you need to have what it takes to be a true-blue social entrepreneur. Being in business alone requires you to have particular qualities that make it possible for you to accomplish your goals; setting up a company that is focused on engendering social change takes a little something extra.
What makes a social entrepreneur?
Fancy yourself a social entrepreneur? What you need most when pursuing a social venture are the following:
A burning passion for change
The fact that you’re reading this article is already a sign that you want to make things better for people. That being said, the true measure of a successful social entrepreneur is the willingness to go the distance in order to do what is right. An absolute passion for a given cause provides the focus necessary to face inevitable challenges.
A maverick mind
You can’t engender change without doing something that’s completely different from what was being done before. The point of social entrepreneurship is to find ways to depart from the (socially harmful) norm. Without a radical mind that is drawn to innovation and the willingness to take the road less traveled, the fight to promote true social development cannot succeed. A social entrepreneur needs to break boundaries and think outside the box.
While it’s perfectly fine for any entrepreneur to take pride in what he or she is doing, a healthy awareness of one’s own shortcomings is critical when running a successful social enterprise. A social entrepreneur needs to be humble enough to make changes to his/her system when it isn’t working. He or she also needs to share credit with other people who work for the organization or the cause, to bolster the sense of community necessary to make the venture work.
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4 steps to setting up a social enterprise
As is true with all businesses, setting up a social enterprise is far from easy. And given that most social ventures tend to be unlike other companies that have been established in the past, getting this kind of business up and running can be far trickier than building any other organization. Nevertheless, here are a few pointers:
1. Start with a good idea
Before anything else, you need to have a compelling idea for your social enterprise. The more appealing your idea is, the more likely it is to find success and funding from a wide variety of sources. Not sure where to begin? Read our post on successful social enterprises to find inspiration!
2. Create connections and relationships
Beyond having a good idea, you need an idea that can really work. Try to connect with other social entrepreneurs who can offer you mentorship and support as you flesh out your idea. You can meet your potential support system by joining innovation competitions or reaching out through your social networks.
Many social enterprises are international, even global, in their reach. As you build your company and relationships, it might be a good idea to invest early in crucial communication channels that will keep your business running.
RingCentral pulls your business phone, team messaging, and video conferencing into a single app. You can track team projects, create events, and share files all in the same place, so none of your important work falls through the cracks.
You can respond to outreach on the fly from any mobile device, too, and jump swiftly from messaging to a face-to-face call:
Connections and communication are cornerstones to the success of any social enterprise. Don’t sleep on this step!
3. Research, research, research
Keeping up with the latest information on social entrepreneurship will help you stay on the cutting edge of the industry. It’s always good to know what resources and techniques you can leverage for your endeavor. Research also lets you know what you can and can’t legally do when building and managing a social enterprise.
4. Secure funding
If you want to set up any kind of business, you definitely need capital to get it going. And while you can attract many investors with your socially conscious intentions, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can raise the amount of money you need to launch. Thankfully, you can tap foundations like Ashoka and Skoll for funding. Want to see other ways of funding your social enterprise? Check out these options catalogued by SocialEarth.
How to run a social enterprise
As challenging as building a social enterprise can be, it’s clearly only the beginning. Once you have successfully launched your socially conscious business, you need to make sure that it runs as smoothly as possible for as long as it is needed. In order to do that, you need to:
Place equal emphasis on profit and social purpose…and not just on paper
As important as your bid for social change is, you must never ignore the fact that you are running a business whose goal is to turn a profit. Your passion for your cause may eclipse all other considerations, but you need to cultivate the discipline necessary to balance ideological and practical goals.
The inverse might also be true; some people get into the social entrepreneurship game because they see the writing on the wall; doing good can make you a lot of money today! But without a genuine passion for what you’re creating, it could become clear, very quickly, that you’re only in it for the money. And that could make investors and customers move on to other organizations.
For survival, stay on top of industry shifts
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” With that adage in mind, you have to make survival a primary objective of your social enterprise. This means that if you want still inspire social change a decade from now, you need to pay attention to how both your market and your industry evolve, and adapt accordingly without abandoning your original purpose.
Get nimble, not competitive
As an agent of progress, you are at the forefront of change. Given this, you need to as nimble as possible in order to pave the way for other businesses to adopt your innovations. The point, you must remember, is not to dominate the market but to inspire social revolution. You have to find and leverage opportunities faster and more effectively than other businesses if you want your message to be heard.
Social entrepreneurship is more important now than it ever has been before; the more successful social enterprises are, the better the world will become. We hope that this miniseries has inspired some of you to take up the mantle of the social entrepreneur.
Originally published Feb 08, 2012, updated May 05, 2022