The social entrepreneurship mindset is one that actively seeks to identify and solve problems faced by impoverished communities in a sustainable way they can pay for.
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The Entrepreneurial Context
Imagine that you are a freshman in a public university whose day by 8 a.m. starts with lectures. You and your colleagues are almost always hungry and you often sneak out to buy biscuits from the petty trader whose stall is just outside your lecture hall. Every time you sneak out, it takes five minutes for your order to be served because other students are also jostling to be attended to.
What will you do?
Will you accept the situation as is or seek to change it?
If you decide to bring about a change what will you do?
Now, think about the millions of young girls in low income communities who miss school daily because they have to walk long distances to fetch water for their families. If you were to bring about a change for these girls, how will you do it? In what way is your solution going to be different from what you would have done in your university?
The Entrepreneurial Mindset
Millions of students and people living in low income communities across Africa accept the status quo. They see their daily challenges as something to live through and cope with.
Yet some people see opportunities to bring about positive change from the problems they see and go through daily.
Why do some accept the status quo while others seek to transform the situation?
Essentially, the difference between these two types of people boils down to mindset. You can train your mind to spot opportunities by always looking for where the problems are and thinking through what you would do about them. This is how entrepreneurial mindsets are developed.
Characterizing the entrepreneurial mindset
The entrepreneurial mindset can be described as follows-
– Seeks to identify problems in his community
-Takes responsibility to solve identified problems
– Consistently thinks through possible solutions to these problems and inspires others to do the same
– Directly takes action to start off a venture around his/others’ ideas
– Engages all segments of his community in order to generate buy-in into his solutions
-Accepts challenges as they occur and seeks alternatives to bypass and overcome them
Is the entrepreneur different from the social entrepreneur?
Many of us will say yes. After all entrepreneurs seeks to maximize profit while social entrepreneurs do not care for money.
Yet this is not true. In fact both types of entrepreneurs are not motivated by money. They are motivated by bringing about a change in their communities. They are driven by seeing their ideas take shape and bring about transformation.
How then do they differ?
The entrepreneur designs his solutions for those who can afford them while the social entrepreneur designs his for those who cannot ordinarily afford them.
The entrepreneur accepts the resultant profit from his efforts while the social entrepreneur would scale down his profit in order to maximize his social impact.
Features of social entrepreneurship
– Designs products and services so that low income and disadvantaged people can afford them.
– Understands that ‘low income’ is not the same as ‘no income’. Low income people buy at prices they can afford.
– How it makes money can be replicated and imitated- in essence it can achieve scale.
– It is sustainable- profit from its sales can cover the costs of delivering its solutions to its target market.
How social entrepreneurship differs from other forms of social engagement
Other forms of social engagement include social service and social activism.
Social service takes direct action to solve a problem using external funding sources. Its impact is usually limited.
Social activism seeks to bring about change indirectly, by motivating stakeholders e.g. the government, the public etc. to take action and effect change.
Social entrepreneurship brings about permanent change because it combines a sustainable business model with direct action by motivated individuals. Yet, this is not to say that social entrepreneurs cannot be activists. In fact, they can be highly effective activists, if they point out the successful solutions they have created.
No social entrepreneurship without a theory of change
If you embark on a journey without stating your destination, how do you measure your progress or even know when you have arrived?
Social entrepreneurship is built on a theory of how the entrepreneur intends to effect a change to the identified problem. It is the assumption you have on how your social business model will make impact.
As a social entrepreneur you must always state your theory of change and the impact you seek to have through your venture. No financier will take you serious if this is missing from your business plan.
For example my theory of change for my healthcare business is- ‘affordable and accessible healthcare for low income communities boosts their productivity and improves their lives’. The impact I seek to achieve through this healthcare venture is- ‘to improve the lives of one million low income people across west Africa by 2024 through enhanced healthcare services which in turn enables them spend more time making a living’.
*This article is part of the training materials I have developed for my Mandela Washington Fellowship Mentorship series. It is designed to prepare participants for the ‘Startup Day’ events which will be held across Nigeria in 2015.
1. Social Entrepreneurship: The case for definition, Roger L. Martin & Sally Osberg, http://worldfellows.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Social%20Entrepreneurship.pdf
2. The power of Theories of Change, Paul Brest, http://worldfellows.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Power%20of%20Theories%20of%20Change.pdf
Special gratitude to Michael Cappello and his team of the Yale World Fellows who organized a fantastic 6-weeks executive business leadership program that redefined how I think about and conduct business today.
Special thanks also to Barack Obama and the people of the United States of America for organizing the young African leaders initiative aimed at empowering young business leaders from Africa to conduct business ethically and in a socially sustainable and responsible way.