What Comes First – The Social, or The Enterprise?

I know what you are thinking. They come together. That’s what social enterprise is all about. A business model that ties in social outcomes with the business operations in perfect harmony. The two are inextricably linked; otherwise it would be a charity that trades, or a business that does corporate social responsibility.

I would like to argue that there is another way. The journey to social enterprise can be a process, and we should encourage and celebrate that. When does a charity with a trading arm become a social enterprise? And how much social value does a business have to add before it can be called a social enterprise?

We have some answers for some of these questions. Some people say that a business is a social enterprise when at least 50% of the profits go towards social improvement.

Having coached and supported more than 250 social enterprises for more than half a decade, and through running my own business, I can tell you that in the early months and years, every pound of cash flow is vital. Without adequate cash flow for maintenance of operations and growth, any business, or charity will cease to exist.

I’ve seen many startup social enterprises struggle with this when getting started. It can be extremely hard to give away that much in the early days when you need it for sustenance of your own life and enterprise. The UK has a great social investment sector, but what about those entrepreneurs that don’t want outside investors?

I think there is another path that isn’t talked about enough. That is the path of gradually incorporating social values and benefits in your entire business as you grow.

It is within this category that some of the largest contributors of social value sit. Small social enterprises are great. But if we want growth in the sector, we need large social enterprises.

I don’t mind if you started off as an enterprise, and added the social later, and I don’t think anyone else should either. I believe that if enough socially minded people build businesses, they will eventually put the “social” in their enterprises when they can.

I don’t think we should expect people to build perfect social enterprises from day one. It’s just too hard most of the time. I’ve seen it. People sacrifice salary for social benefit. That’s not sustainable. Build a business that works, and add the social values as you grow. Trying to get everything perfect from day one will kill you.

It’s just too hard for most new bootstrapped businesses to have a completely social supply chain, carbon neutral offices, organic, fair trade and locally sourced everything.

So go out there. Be a business for a bit. Get some money coming in. Know your purpose and your goals, and don’t worry if you are not perfect yet. You can be perfect later. For now, just get started, and keep going. We need your ideas in the world.

How to Start a Social Enterprise From Anywhere in the World

You want to start a company that makes the world a better place. How are you going to do that, then? I’ll tell you how. And I won’t just tell you how to start one in the UK, I’ll tell you how to do it in Myanmar too. And if you can do it in Myanmar, I’m pretty sure you can do it anywhere in the world.

1. Join a community.

I love coworking spaces. I love to visit and work from new ones in new countries. In London, I spend most of my time in Impact Hub Westminster, and I’m even on their website as a coworking lifeguard.

Joining a supportive community is a vital ingredient in your start-up success, so do it! Where else are you going to make friends that get you through your hard times, and help you celebrate your wins?  Check what’s around you and go for a look, or join a tour of coworking spaces in London.

Project Hub Yangon

What do you do if no community exists? You start one. That’s exactly what Allison Morris (pictured above), and Pete Silvester did with Project Hub Yangon. The space launched in 2013, but the community building work really began when the pair hosted Global Entrepreneurship Week in Myanmar in 2012. They hoped that Project Hub Yangon would become a place for like-minded people to discuss ideas, work on projects and create businesses. That’s exactly what’s happened.

Finding new members, and managing the space are the daily battles of every coworking space, but their vision has become a reality. In their first year, as well as hosting the space for members with local space manager Zar Chi, they supported 5 local start-ups through a sponsored incubation program.

“It’s still a lot of work, but it’s worth it to support the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Allison Morris, Co-founder.

When I got there, they’d just installed their third independent internet connection, to deal with Myanmar’s notoriously unpredictable service. It was one of the fastest I found in Yangon. They’ve even got a an emergency battery that keeps the wi-fi going even when all the other electricity goes out!

If you’ve got some work or research to do while you are in Yangon, definitely check it out.

2. Get Support.

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