The age of social awareness is upon us. As more businesses choose to include social objectives in business models, the hope for a sustainable economy becomes increasingly achievable. Developing a social enterprise takes some serious planning. There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces. How do you generate revenue while spending money on the good of your community, the environment, and your employees? 

Is there some sort of magical balance that keeps successful social entrepreneurs afloat with a viable income? Working together with these social businesses has taught us a lot about what it takes to make a social impact while still maintaining a profit. Here, we’ll share some of what we’ve learned and fully explain the meaning of putting social and environmental importance first, even in business.

what is a social entrepreneur?

The term social entrepreneur isn’t new, but it has just recently become a regularly used word in the business sector. It represents a for-profit organization with a social mission to help people and the environment. In other words, a social entrepreneur is somebody developing a business that earns revenue but also deals with social problems or makes a social impact on the world.

Social entrepreneurs help the global community on a variety of levels. There’s no one route to take when choosing to be socially responsible. Some of the social goals that businesses choose to work toward include:

  • Creating a workspace built on equality
  • Implementing practices which reduce water waste
  • Using recycled products for packaging and production
  • Choosing energy-efficient equipment
  • Developing community outreach programs
  • Supporting local businesses by sourcing locally
  • Starting employee training and incentive programs
  • Donating to causes in the local community
  • Sponsoring local sports teams
  • Hosting information sessions and job fairs for locals

There are many social businesses that have found success by striking this delicate balance between profit, social and environmental goals. For example, TOMS shoes is a rising footwear brand which started because the founder, Blake Mycoskie was sad to see the number of shoeless citizens in Argentina. To rectify the situation, he created a shoe company that provided a good to the public, and for each pair sold, donated a pair to somebody in need. Since then, the company has gone on to achieve several additional environmentally significant goals, such as thousands of clean water projects around the world. In 2017, the company reported a profit of $91 million, of which $8 million was kept as profit.

So, are social entrepreneurs successful? It depends on how much you want to earn and how much you’re willing to spend on pressing social needs in your community and around the world.

why is becoming a social entrepreneur a good idea for me?

Choosing social entrepreneurship may seem risky at first, but it has proven to be a highly sustainable practice. The reason is that a social enterprise gives back to the employees working for them, the community they live in, and the world at large. This develops a lucrative community in which to thrive, a workforce with low turnover rate and high productivity, and a global community that views your brand is good for the world.

When you achieve a social goal, you help your brand grow while simultaneously supporting the social economy. Many a social enterprise delivers goods and services to their customers at a price that encourages financial growth. It’s simply choosing what to do with this income that makes a difference. For example, putting that money back into your company and the community it lives in will continue to develop the sustainability needed to thrive.

Becoming a social entrepreneur also opens doors to an entirely new network of peers and business partners. B Lab is a non-profit organization that encourages and supports social entrepreneurs. The organization offers a certification process called B Corp. A B Corp Certified business is part of a large group of for-profit organizations helping the global community. To achieve this status you must first pass an Impact Assessment that assesses the impact you have on your employees, community, environment, and more. Scoring 80 out of the possible 200 points earns you B Corp Certification.

Other benefits of becoming a social entrepreneur include:

  • Helping others
  • Supporting the local economy
  • Building brand recognition
  • Raising capital is easier because people want to support your cause
  • Saving the environment for future generations

If you’re interested in becoming a social entrepreneur, it might help to speak with a social enterprise like Community Builders or our partners at SENCO and gain some first-hand information on the process and what it involves.

how do i measure my impact?

As a business, you measure success through metrics, reports, and analytics. A sales chart shows you how well you’ve done this quarter and helps you predict income for the next quarter. An attendance sheet shows you how many employees are coming in on time, staying for a full shift, and retaining employment. Measuring social impact is a little bit different. It requires you to look at data in a whole new way. Some social data is still measurable through the laws of mathematics. For example, how many communities have received clean water because of a recent clean water project? That data can easily be found on a graph. Or, for a business like TOMS, how many shoes have been provided to people in need this year? Again, a simple equation.

What about measuring your impact on the environment, or how happy your employees are? This takes some carefully designed questionnaires and a list of every global effort you’ve made over the period you’re measuring. Let’s focus on employee happiness for a moment. What are some ways you could measure this?

  • Surveys that ask employees to rate job happiness on a scale of 1-10.
  • Checking your suggestion box for dissatisfied employees making suggestions to better the workplace.
  • Checking attendance records to determine how many employees are excessively late or absent.
  • Tallying the number of employee training and inventive programs currently in place.

With this information, you can begin making changes to current employee protocols. For example, maybe your employees are coming in late often because they’re dreading the morning period at work. A reward program for perfect attendance might incentivize better attendance and higher productivity.

For environmental measurements, you may need to check on each individual area. A high electricity bill, an overage of product waste, or exorbitant water usage all lead to a poor score on reaching environmental goals. You can rectify this by implementing energy and water efficiency, installing social power, and beginning a strict recycling and compost program.

how to get started?

Now that you know what it is to be a social entrepreneur and why it’s of benefit to be socially conscious as a business, you might be wondering how to get started. If you already have a business in place, changing some of your core practices and policies is a great start. One of the suggestions we often give is to definitively commit to social and environmental accountability on paper. By writing these changes directly into your company mission statement, you put yourself on the line to follow through.

Design a business plan which shows you how much you’ll spend on the changes you need to make. Partnering with other local social entrepreneurs or business aid centres will help you understand what should go into this plan and how to set achievable short- and long-term goals for the changes you plan.

Making a social impact is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Be prepared to work hard and watch results appear slowly over a long period of time. Many companies choose to jump into social entrepreneurship with both feet first, while others take their time implementing one or two changes here and there until they fit the definition of a social enterprise. However you choose to make the change, you’ll be becoming part of a much bigger entity and a solution to a major problem facing the global economy and environment.

visit us at sandbox centre to find the support you need

Sandbox Centre offers more than just sage business advice. We also connect businesses with law firms, peers, business partners, investors, information sessions, and training. For businesses hoping to dip their toe in the pool of social entrepreneurship, there’s plenty of information to be learned. Sandbox Centre can point you in the right direction and help get you started building a brand to better the world for future generations.

For more information on Sandbox Centre and our services, we invite you to contact us, or visit us on the 2nd floor at 24 Maple Avenue, right here in Barrie, Ontario and join the Sandbox community on FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram. Keep an eye out on our events page for coming B Corp & Social Enterprise events.  We’re partnered with SENCO an initiative of Georgian College’s Centre for Changemaking & Social Innovation (CCSI) who inspire, connect and equip those looking to engage in social enterprise to face cultural, environmental and social challenges in our region. Check out their events page for sessions like Social Enterprise 101 and screenings of the Social Shift movie.

Jesse Kerr – Creative Commissioner | Sandbox Centre

Jesse is always multitasking.. . . and seems to thrive when juggling priorities and deadlines.  He’d tell you he’s adaptable because he builds in room for error, adjustment, improvement, alteration and mitigation of foreseeable road blocks into his vision. However, anything that falls outside of this range of acceptability is quickly dispatched because “ain’t nobody got time for that”! He’s not good at collaborating in large groups – but he sure is good at entertaining them!  We’re pleased to offer you his perspective that includes his margin for error; alongside an imagineered vision of greatness. Question is – are we going for good, better or best? Cheers!