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5 Tips to Scale Up Your Social Enterprise

By Rohan Potdar

So you’ve decided to quit a well-paying job to do something meaningful like educating poor children, giving a sustainable livelihood to artisans, delivering better healthcare facilities or creating a holistic approach to alleviating poverty, apathy, and ignorance. Kudos!

Starting up your social enterprise and setting it up as a process-driven organization will surely take a lot of dedication, hard work and above all, perseverance to get people to change their minds. Your social enterprise is not only about addressing a specific problem but it’s also about operationally sustaining yourself while simultaneously bringing about a long-term and a large-scale positive change and for that, you need to scale up!

Here are some key questions that need answers as you scale up:

1. Identify a problem: “What is the problem that I am passionate about solving?”

“Social entrepreneurship is not about a few extraordinary people saving the day for everyone else. At its deepest level, it is about revealing possibilities that are currently unseen and releasing the capacity within each person to reshape a part of the world.”

- David Bornstein, author of “How To Change The World: Social Entrepreneurs And The Power Of New Ideas”

As celebrated author David Bornstein rightly said, social entrepreneurship is not a short-term deed about giving food to the hungry or planting one tree in a year. Look for people and reasons that need changing, to bring about greater social good. There will be plenty if you look around. Sometimes, entrepreneurs just follow the problem to its source, wherever it may be. Just like Bryan Lee.

Bryan Lee left his mainstream career in America, learnt social entrepreneurship in an Ivy league school and traveled to Maharashtra, an Indian state, to understand the problems that Indian farmers face.

2. Create a prototype and test it: “Do I have a workable solution that solves the problem of my target audience?”

“It’s where the heart of Gandhi meets the mind of Henry Ford.”

- Kyle Westaway, author of “Profit & Purpose: How Social Innovation Is Transforming Business For Good”

Create a robust product or a service-based business model that stems from a social innovation which can be replicated for a global population with similar socio-economic criteria and needs. Usually, your target audience either falls into the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) community or represents the general masses that would use products or services made by the BOP community. Testing your prototype in a limited target market can offer great insights into its behavior, needs and motivations. SustainEarth started out by testing their BioGas plant prototype on dairy farmers like Krishna Reddy to assess its workability.

3. Identify impact parameters: “What defines the impact that I am delivering through my product or service?”

“If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business – it’s that simple.”

- Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Group

A successful product or a service is the one that makes a tangible positive difference in the lives of its target communities on a sustained basis. It’s crucial to measure this difference through a set of well-defined impact metrics that are directly relevant to your target community. Needless to say, impact parameters vary across sectors, and prototyping and testing your product or service serves as foundation to understand your impact.

For NanoHealth, diagnosis, right treatment and compliance are the key impact parameters around which they operate.

4. Monitor and improvise: “Does my solution need tweaking to be more suitable to my target audience?”

“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

- Carl Frankel, author of “The Art Of Social Enterprise: Business As If People Mattered”

Monitor your innovation continuously. Getting direct feedback from your customers, can help you in making tweaks to your original design, thus improving its usability and reliability. In the following video, Bhushan Trivedi, CEO of Picoenergy, talks about how their solar lamps had to undergo various iterations after receiving critical feedback from their target customers.

5. Scale up: “How do I reach more people outside my current sphere of impact?”

“Is it uncomfortable for you to think about making money doing something good? Wouldn’t it be more moral to be uncomfortable with making money doing no good?”

- Dan Pallotta, Owner of Advertising for Humanity

At the start, you lay the foundation of your social enterprise by identifying a problem and coming up with a working solution for it. But, as your impact grows beyond your initial target audience, there is a need to expand geographically to other affected areas. The need to touch more lives, solve more problems, and create more development while being able to profitably sustain your operations drives social entrepreneurs to scale up.

Social enterprise Divine Chocolate started in 1999 as a fair-trade organization in the UK in partnership with Kuapa Kokoo farmers co-operative in Africa and then expanded to the US in 2007.

We live in an age where commercially rewarding businesses are no more the hallmarks of being successful. It’s what you do for the ‘greater good’ while doing business that matters. Social entrepreneurs who base their businesses on social good, need to expand sustainably in order to drive positive change in the world.

About the Author:

Rohan Potdar

I am super-passionate about helping social entrepreneurs, changemakers and impact organizations tell stories of their social good. An Engineer and MBA by training I took to storytelling by choice, initially as a hobby and eventually as a profession. Real, positive AND meaningful stories are my forte. Besides being a zealous writer, a thinker, and a continuous learner, I am also a hands-on dad! Riding on a country-side road and sleeping under the stars is my rush.

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