The Business Of Better: Tips For Budding Social Entrepreneurs

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The word “business” might summon an image of an unfeeling and profit-making machine.

Rarely is it thought of as an exclusively benevolent force that aims to make the world a better place. Or maybe this is just me…but in any case, businesses are ultimately designed to maximize profit and often does so at the expense of the environment or its employees.

More often than not, environmental sustainability, workers rights, and job creation are merely after thoughts or marketing gimmicks aimed at – you guessed it! – making more money.

But there has been a shift in recent years away from this single bottom line of profit towards a triple bottom line. Think of it as the Three Ps: people, planet, and profit. This is the realm of social innovation where innovators and entrepreneurs use novel ideas to solve pressing social issues like healthcare, poverty, homelessness, crime, and food security.

“Social innovation refers to new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet…Even more simple, a social innovation is an idea that works for the public good.” —Centre for Social Innovation Toronto

These issues are becoming increasingly complex and there is a growing realization of the need to completely rethink what have become entrenched beliefs, practices, and models. Social innovators and entrepreneurs aim to transform society by inventing new and sustainable approaches to improve our current systems and create social value.

This growing realization is resulting in a burgeoning sector and perhaps you’re one such social innovator or entrepreneur with the next big idea that will change the world…or maybe you don’t have that idea yet, but you’re interested in exploring a career down this path. Either way, the big question is: how do you dip your toes into this relatively new and exciting sector?

Learn the lingo

Social enterprise. Social finance. Corporate social responsibility. Social entrepreneurs and social intrapreneurs. These are all common words in the world of social innovation and you should get to know them inside and out if you’re planning on starting your own organization or working at one. You can start by reading this primer. Consider it your 101 guide.

Attend industry events and network

Hubs of social innovation are popping up everywhere. Research what’s happening around your area and attend any local events. What better way to get to know this sector than by surrounding yourself with the actual change agents themselves?

If you’re in the Toronto area, for example, check out the Centre for Social Innovation which hosts various events every week. You’ll meet like-minded individuals who will be more than happy to support you in your endeavors and answer any questions you may have. They are a pretty positive and supportive bunch…I mean, they do work towards the public good, after all!

Conduct informational interviews

After you’ve attended one of those local events and networked your face off, why not follow up with those new connections you’ve made? Never underestimate the power of getting together over a hot cup of java to ask questions or even share your ideas.

Conduct an informational interview with a social innovator and ask him or her everything you’ve ever wondered about the sector, the specific social problem you’re interested in, and even what the job itself entails.

Volunteer

Find an organization that is doing work that you are passionate about and gain some hands-on experience. Get your hands dirty and volunteer! Whether it’s within your local community or working overseas, there is honestly no deeper learning than practical learning.

Job hunt

Since this is a relatively nascent movement, there are always new roles and opportunities available at social enterprises. Contribute your skills and experience to one that you feel is creating real social impact. Great places to start are idealist.org, MaRS Discover District, Centre for Social Innovation, B Corporation, Net Impact, Echoing Green and Next Billion.

Explore fellowships

Fellowships will guide you on your journey through formal education, experiential learning, mentorship, training and professional development, and networking. Check out this great list of fellowships currently out there.

Start your own venture

But hey, maybe you’ve done all these things already and you’re an innovator yourself with a really big idea! Well, what are you waiting for? Go out and start your own venture. This whole sector is made up of change agents…people who get out there and act.

If this is something you want to really commit to, check out Social Innovation Generation: Canada, MaRS Discover District, Youth Social Innovation Capital Fund, Ashoka, and the Centre for Social Innovation for resources, funding, and guidance.

Now go forth and fight the good fight!

Photo credit: Social Entrepreneurship Laboratory by Klean Denmark on Flickr
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About the author

Justine Abigail Yu is a communications professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in Political Science and Sociology, her heart lies in the development sector where she has worked with organizations operating in North America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. You can easily lure her in with talk of international development, human rights, emerging technologies, travel, and yes, Mad Men. Or a slice of cheesecake. Read her blog here or follow her on Twitter @justineabigail.