Being a social enterprise or a socially driven organisation means building social value into the heart of your business model. But this value proposition is key. Like any business you have to ask if what you are doing is provided by anyone else in the same way.
If the answer is yes then your product or service is not needed. It doesn’t matter if you are driven, passionate and borderline genius. A good business is a problem solved, and a good social project is much the same, but sometimes with the profit motive necessarily absent from the equation.
Goldman Sachs have a programme called 10,000 Social Businesses – it is an academically delivered course open to profit and non-profit trading enterprises. It was initially a for-profit businesses only course but the people designing the project spoke to social enterprises who were experiencing the same issues as normal businesses.
The message is that business and social business are very, very similar. And the laws of demand and supply apply; and the need for a finely-tuned values-driven propostion at the heart of ANY project is the key to a successful operation.
Stephen Covey was the master of self-help – his bestselling book, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People has sold more then 25 million copies. It is aimed at business and the individual and draws together advice and experience from many different strands of learning.
The fourth habit is ‘Win-Win’: the art of building into an event or act an outcome that satisfies more then one person or group. Can you think of a time when you created Win-Win?
It is a highly effective weapon to have in your armoury in all sorts of situations. I will produce just one example: Dr Aidan Halligan, a passionate advocate of the rights of homeless people in healthcare, saw that the A and E departments of hospitals were being used by homeless people as most people use GPs ie, for non-emergency issues.
This helped no one. The homeless didn’t get the appropriate care and staff were being misdeployed. It was Lose-Lose.
He has since created London Pathway, a service within the NHS that is targeted at homeless people. How did he get this into operation. He defined the problem, and created a solution that solved the problem for homeless people – but one that also saved the NHS money. Which NHS policy wonk isn’t going to get excited about a project that actually saves money!
But that wasn’t enough for Dr Halligan. He created a role for formerly homeless people in the process, using their experiences to facilitate the programme. This gave them a job. It also showed other homeless people that there was hope for them in society. I’m losing count of the wins here, I think that is Win-Win-Win-Win-Win: for homeless people seeking care; staff looking to be used appropriately; for the NHS saving money; for the formerly homeless person usefully employed; and for the hope given to the homeless person being treated. Magic.
You can’t do everything. In fact, you can barely do half of everything you need to do to achieve your goal or project. Out of ten things you need, you only have the skills to successfully achieve five of them. (You may think you have seven skills, can learn one, blag one and forget the other. You are wrong.)
So, what to do?
You gather talent. How are you going to get someone to do your bookkeeping, or your accounts, or watch the pennies, or do a business plan, or cashflow projections. You can’t learn in a week. No, scratch that. You can learn in a week, but you will miss something important. Then you will have to learn by your mistakes, and it is always better to learn by someone else doing it right for you!
Minimise risk by gathering talent to do the things you are not great at. So, how to gain their support?
Well, it is back to your value proposition. Who is likely to want to see the sort of outcome you are aiming for. If we use the financial example form above, my first stop would be a big or medium-seized financial services/accountancy firm in your local area. Companies like that are always looking for marketing in a certain place. If you are able to prove in some way that if they help you – for free or at knockdown rates – they will experience some enhanced profile, or marketing, they will at least listen to you.
You will therefore have to create the opportunity for them to be marketed. An event, or through a network you have access to, or a connection to one particularly juicy potential client. Who knows? But you have to have a worm on the end of your hook, otherwise they won’t bite.
This cuts across finance, legal advice, help with IT, or space, or communications. Try to get professional help with this approach, and keep re-energising your commitment to them. Gathering talent is a two-way street.