Priya Prakash enjoys shipping change especially disruptive products that have a purpose, touching billions of lives, opening new markets and revenue-streams with lasting social impact.  A board level Director responsible for the creative direction of products like Nokia Asha Smartphones, V1.0 iPlayer, Flirtomatic, and BBC mobile web services, her designs have significantly increased sales, share prices and converted billions into passionate brand advocates.  Priya is escaping Nokia to start Design For Social Change, a social impact incubator that brings designers, developers,  business folks from corporates and indies in a 48 hour tournament to solve local social problems in communities. 

Excited and fresh from startup weekend, Escape had lined up a real treat for me by organising “Changing careers into social enterprise with On Purpose and the Emerge Venture Lab” led by Tom Rippin co-founder of OnPurpose a unique leadership program which gives skilled professionals looking to break into the social enterprise sector.

Looking around one couldn’t help noticing that Adam Street was heaving with eager Escapees who had filled in the space to listen to a rich panel of social enterprise practioners, intermediaries and associates from OnPurpose, Emerge Labs and Associates.

Social Enterprise is innovating traditional business models.

As many escapees are already painfully aware, traditional business is broken. There are various attempts from the Government’s initiative of Big Society to conferences popping up like Meaning, which are trying re-invent the role of business in society and how it can give back meaningfully and make an impact to consumers, citizens and employees.

Social enterprise is increasingly seen as a way to challenge the idea that profitable businesses can give back to society and not just shareholders alone.

This brings us a unique opportunity – on one hand social enterprises can rapidly grow in size at the scale of the problem/opportunity its tapping as its creating value that is affordable enough for people who are benefiting from the solution, can and want to pay.

A good example given by Tom was a project in Haiti to sell condoms at the same price as a matchbox to prevent AIDS. By making the costs affordable, people value the condoms and buy them. If freely distributed by charities, people value it less and throw it away.

This brings us to a very important principle when starting any social enterprise: there needs to be a real value that the enterprise can offer to solve a problem at a cost that is affordable to the people affected by the problem, so that the solution can balance scale and sustainability and grow as big as the problem.

Different types of social enterprise businesses plough back their profits into the society/business in various ways:

Myth 1: There is no single entity called Social Enterprise.

Truth:  It’s a spectrum that makes up the sector. 

Tom explained that there are a full range of flavours of social enterprises:

  • Traditional – all profit | One end of spectrum
  • Philanthrophic (Eg: Big Issue)
  • Social Enterprise  (Funders, investors, incubators)
  • Enterprise related charity (Eg: Princes’ trust)
  • Traditional charity | Other end of spectrum

As there are so many flavours in this spectrum, the Social Enterprise Mark has been created to give “to customers that they are driven by social or environmental objectives and are trading to benefit people and planet”

Narrow your focus as the field is vast.

Step 1: Do an audit of what are your transferable skills. If you work in a big company/corporate, analyse which skills in your day job can be translated to other industries. There are many overlapping skills that social enterprises need, that can benefit from someone coming from private sector, especially if they have done everything from developing a product/service from scratch to launch.

Step 2: Analyse if you want to be engaged in a frontline (Close to cause) or one that is an intermediary (Provide overview e.g. Accelerators, Incubators or VC Funds).

Step 3: Look at how established the organisation is. Commercial, charity or  startup social enterprise?

Step 4: Size of organisation. Small vs Large. Number of people, teams and resources available. Will you be a generalist or a specialist?

Step 5: Topic area: Climate Change or Education? Find an area you can relate to, are passionate about or have even been on the receiving end.

Social enterprises are finding it hard to measure their social impact.

It’s still quite disjointed how Social Enterprises measure the impact they are making in communities/society through their business. People are creating their own tools to measure impact – some of the people who are active in this are:

Currently, the UK is leading in the developed economies in applying social enterprise frameworks in the area of social investment & finance. Developing economies (i.e. India and East Africa) are leading in creating large scale social enterprises e.g. Arvind Eye care , Jaipur Foot and eponymous Grameen in Bangladesh. India, Africa and other developing economies are the Silicon Valley of social enterprise. If you get a chance to volunteer on projects in the field in these areas, take it up and go for it. The practical experience is invaluable.

How to break into social enterprise?

Take some tests to find out your SWOT and passions. Surround yourself with interesting people or events.

Moving from your current industry to social enterprise is a process.  Let your interests guide you. Take tests like Career Anchors Test . Download inspirational podcasts, go for networking events, volunteer on projects that resonate with you. (Don’t go for non-paid roles, but volunteer on projects keeping your day job.)

This was seen as more valuable as people can see you are sacrificing your time to do a day a week/month and give your skills to a social enterprise).

Adele mentioned how passion is a process and not a destination. Switch your mindset from customer-focussed i.e, if I do an MBA, can I get a job in social investment firm to more supplier -focussed:  who wants to buy my services. Increase your radar. Keep a Twitter account, follow interesting people if you don’t want to tweet. Keep a blog, make your presence felt and become a thought-leader in this space by engaging with people over a meaningful dialogue. If someone does Google Search, make sure they come across your blog with 5-6 interesting posts on your point of view on Social Enterprise. Start building your online presence and community before you start your own social enterprise. Subscribe to newsletters from NEFYoung FoundationNESTA

Myth: You need an MBA & well-defined passion.

Truth: You need networks and people.

Use Twitter as a listening tool. Go to events where you meet like-minded folks. Events from folks like:

  • Impetus Trust
  • Nexus Youth summit – Annual event in NY (young philanthrophists)
  • The Institute for Philanthropy
  • Social Innovation camp (tech related projects)
  • Good for Nothing (creative projects)
  • Make Sense
  • Net Impact
  • Impact Lab
  • Young Foundation 
  • Big Society Capital
  • Unlimited

The power of building something small by getting seed-funding from folks like Unlmtd was seen as valuable to give VCs something to work with.

Overall, the evening was incredibly useful and insightful with a wealth of contacts, advice and practical tips on how to break into the sector.

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