How to do it and why you should
By SANDY CLARKE
True to our love for binary thinking, many of us believe there are two ways of doing business. An organisation can become successful for its own sake, or it can look to be a force for good in the world, focusing on bringing about social change or environmental improvement.
Never the twain shall meet
In the United Kingdom (UK), the number of thriving social enterprises rather blows a hole in the theory. According to government data, there are around 70,000 social enterprises employing around one million people, and contributing £18.5 billion to the economy.
Given the number of social enterprises, it’s surprising to find that many people are unsure of what exactly constitutes a social enterprise. The Department for Trade and Industry defines a social enterprise as being a business with “primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose”.
In other words, a social enterprise runs like any other business: it makes money from whatever it does, employees get paid, and profits are made. The difference lies in what happens to those profits: a conventional business will likely reinvest most or all profits made in itself, whereas a social enterprise will reinvest its profits into helping to bring about some kind of social benefit.
The UK has a wealth of well-known social enterprises that are both financially healthy and operate as a force for good. A few examples include The Big Issue, The Eden Project, Technology Trust, HCT Group, and Cafedirect. As Millennials search for careers with purpose and meaning, it’s little wonder many social enterprises are started by students long before graduation day arrives.
In terms of impact, social enterprises are hugely endearing. The Elvis and Kresse organisation takes industrial waste materials, turns them into stylish luggage and hand bags and donates 50% of the profits to the Fire Fighters Charity.
Impact Arts has a massive social impact, bringing about a wide range of benefits for older people with regard to isolation and loneliness. A social return on investment evaluation report shows a return of over £8 for every £1 invested.
The Big Issue helps around 2,000 homeless people, providing opportunities to earn a legitimate income, cultivating a sense of pride and self-worth in the process.
The evidence suggests you’d be hard pushed to find more of a purpose and meaning elsewhere other than working for a social enterprise. Alternatively, exploring the option of starting up a social enterprise might unlock the door to an innovative career that helps to make a difference to the world around you.
Of course, as with any project, there are challenges to overcome. Young people typically hold higher expectations in their endeavours. If we start an enterprise by Monday and the world isn’t saved by Friday, our souls are crushed. There’s also the small matter of sourcing finances to kick-start the project, balancing priorities of work and study, and being taken seriously enough for people to invest in our idea.
But starting a social enterprise as a student has its advantages. For a start, building an idea within the safety net of university means that, by the time you come to graduate, the idea will be well-developed and ready to generate revenue.
1. Social benefit
In Malaysia, as with the UK, there are a number of social and environmental demands to be met – meeting one of these demands is the key to the success of your idea.
Like many projects, collaboration helps enormously – if there are like-minded, able people around you, enlist their help. It’s also wise to network as much as possible and build relationships where you can – you never know how and in what ways others can offer assistance.
When trying to secure funding, have a robust model of your idea in place that’s convincing enough to let financial backers know that your social enterprise can be profitable.
Associate with those who have relevant experience similar to the kind of experience you wish to nurture within yourself. Learning from others is far more expedient and useful, than trying to look for practical and technical solutions to overcoming obstacles.
5. Making a difference
Finally, embrace idealism. Keep in mind whatever positive change you want to help bring about, and know that you have it in you to make a difference. There is no feeling quite like the feeling that comes knowing you’ve helped someone.
Now imagine how greater that feeling would be if you, yes you, could begin something wonderful today in order to help thousands and, who knows, maybe even millions.
What are you waiting for?
Sandy is the editor of a regional magazine based in Scotland, UK. He has a keen interest in what makes great leaders tick and in helping others to unlock their leadership potential. To engage with Sandy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more How To articles, click here.
First appeared on Leaderonomics.com. Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 13 June 2015
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.