Making the world a better place –
and making money off it.
“You can’t make money from a social business!” This is something almost every social entrepreneur has heard at least once. But the start-up community has fundamentally changed in recent years, and innovators interested in earning money while doing good are right on trend. Read about why social entrepreneurs should not be discouraged by old prejudices. Read More
According to Forbes, 87% of people are unhappy or frustrated with their workplaces. The millennials, who now make up almost 50% of the workforce, are confronted with what seems like an overwhelming dilemma: the discrepancy between their desire for a good lifestyle with the rising cost of living today, and their unwillingness to give up on their personal passions and agenda and settle for a job that is not interesting, challenging, or meaningful to them.
The conflict between challenging yourself to be more successful, to earn more, and to do it all fast, and the relentless search for meaning, positive change, and a more decent world for more people can inspire some to simply stop at a certain point in their lives – to stop and rethink the whole way they are operating within the system, to stop and question the system itself.
How many people do you know who are making good money doing what they love?
In recent years, more and more people have decided that they are not willing to give up their personal dreams. Their dreams of doing what they love, feel they are great at, and where they can be their very best self for themselves and for others, while still earning the money they believe their work – and the impact it has – is worth.
Regardless of whether millennials have been the driving force, or if pure circumstances have led to it, a different way of doing business has been developing in recent years. And we are seeing more and more talented, passionate people taking this path and paving a new road using social entrepreneurship or the Double Bottom Line (DBL) approach.
87% of people are unhappy or frustrated with their workplaces
Double Bottom Line organizations are businesses that base their success on the quality and competitiveness of their product or service on the market and aim to maximize their profits while viewing business as a means for promoting positive social change. In other words, they are organizations that employ business methods to promote a social or environmental goal.
These might be local initiatives, such as communal shops or food cooperatives, scalable businesses with operational characteristics that make them social enterprises, or even start-ups developing innovative technology that will change lives for the better. What they all share is a social mission at the heart of their activities that dictates a whole different way of doing business.
It’s not an easy path. Since this is a new approach, there are almost no existing standards to learn from or use as best practices. So as part of the DBL movement, you have to be inventive along the way, developing innovative decision-making mechanisms and ways of solving the tension between your business and social goals and of overcoming the suspicion levelled at organizations that claim to promote both social and financial profits simultaneously. Here is my attempt to describe the 3 main challenges I perceive:
1. Public opinion and prejudice
When something is referred to as ‘social’, people immediately associate it with being less profitable and of lower quality. One of the main challenges in this industry and for many DBL start-ups is to raise awareness of the possibility of business models that incorporate a social agenda for change that does not make them less profitable or less successful as businesses. On the contrary, the fact that a business promotes a social mission through its core activities can be a means to achieving even greater success.
Over the past few years, it has been amazing to see the growth of the sector and the evolvement of local ecosystems and of innovative platforms to support such organizations. It looks like this sector is set on a clear path for growth, but there is still a long way to go until mixing business with social activities is a mainstream way of doing business.
2. Key performance indicators
Today, the easiest way to measure the success of an organization is still by how it is doing financially. The data is there and comparing numbers is easy. It is simply how we are used to measuring both the success of an organization and of any investment.
When looking at DBL ventures, we clearly need to add another key performance indicator – social impact. This is where it gets tricky, since it’s not always clear how far and just where your impact extends and what you can or can’t claim has been driven by your actions. If you work with youth at risk, for example, can you take the credit if they have a great job ten years later? You probably contributed to it. But attempting to quantify just how much is challenging.
And it doesn’t end there: Even if you have a clear idea of the impact you are having, measuring it, and translating it into a quantifiable – and ideally financial – value is a challenge in itself. There are very interesting tools being developed in these areas, but implementing them and adjusting them to fit whatever your organization is doing is still quite complicated.
3. Developing a complete ecosystem
When you are developing your social organization, it is pretty clear who your strategic partners might be, where you could raise money from, and where you fit in. The same goes for many business start-ups – there are specific incubators, investors, service providers and consultants who specialize in the industry or sector. For a DBL start-up, it’s much more complicated. In order for the sector to grow and evolve, we need to develop local (and global) ecosystems and networks that can specifically support the needs of such start-ups and provide the professional know-how they require.
Practically there is a need to create incentives for more organizations to become part of this industry and contribute their expertise and resources. This could take the form of government encouragement through funds, corporations that would realize the innovative potential of such organizations, investors who would look at profits as a combination of social benefits and financial profit, or, of course, talented and creative entrepreneurs who would dedicate themselves to developing new solutions for social challenges.
The good news are that all of these challenges are solvable, and they would probably disappear over time as the number of success stories of social entrepreneurs pioneering the way increases.
All of these challenges are solvable.
5 tips for the DBL beginner
1. Stop looking for one single definition. Instead read some articles, talk to people in the field, experience a bit of social entrepreneurship, and then develop your own definition. The one that fits YOUR perception, goals and motivations. This will help you have the maximum possible impact.
2. Look for DBL experts. Adopting the DBL approach is not simply a matter of “integrating” business into the social – or vice versa. It’s a different way of doing things. When you turn to consultants and experts, make sure you reach out to those who have truly been practicing a double bottom line and not just the one bottom line.
3. Establish your community. Starting a DBL organization or becoming part of one confronts you with a vast set of questions, dilemmas and decisions regarding operations, performance indicators, management, financial structures, joint ventures, partners and more. Having a strong community of people who are facing similar situations could be hugely important for your endurance in the process.
4. Communicate your impact. Many people are doing good deeds that no one knows about. If you are on a mission to address a social problem, awareness is a key element in the war for change, as is inspiring others to act and proving that it is possible. So make sure that your impact is visible. Find creative ways to show what is happening, and how the vision that you set is becoming a reality.
5. Find ways that will help you to never forget to FEEL the good that you are doing, and to ENJOY it!