Designing a Social Enterprise for Impact + Scale

This past June, Groupshot led the Impact + Scale Workshop in India to understand how systems centered research and design can lead social enterprirses to have impact and scale. Our month in India took as across the country to four different cities and states each with different cultures and enviornments. From Bangalore and Hyderabad in the South and up to Delhi and Jaipur in the North we wanted to see not only how design-type research could yield local insight, but how we could identify the aspects that allow a project to be relevent over a wider set of communities.

While on this workshop we learned a lot about the Social Enteprise design process, both through our own case studies and discussion with social entrepreneurs across India. Over oakley sunglasses cheap the coming months we will be turning this insight into some short publications and content which we will share here and with a wider community. In the meantime though I wanted to share some keys tips on Social Enterise design that came out from the workshop.

  • Start With Context: I am surprised by the lack of context centered social entrepreneurship. To truly have a positive impact you need to be clear on where/who you are working with and why. We met one seemingly great social enterprise in Hyderabad that was conceived of in the States. After a few short scouting trips the idea was formed, and the project went into development–but it was full of assumptions about how education in India happens. It’s taken them two years and counting to evolve their model back to something that actually will work and have impact in the real India.
  • Users are Key, but not Everything: User centered design is a great tool. Understanding who your users are and what their lives are like makes the difference between a product and a service that changes their lives, or sits on a shelf unused forever. But a user is not usually the best starting point for a social enterprise. We met one social enterprise that truly understood their user. Their concept was brilliant–the only trouble was that they had chosen the wrong user from the start. Their poor customer could never afford their product (or anything even related) no matter how ‘user-centered’ and ‘affordable’ they made it. Most of the problems social enterprises hope to tackle are systems that have a complex network of stakeholders. Understanding these systems will unravel who the key user(s) you need to keep in mind actually are, and how they all fit together.
  • Start With (parts of) a Vision: You need a clear idea of your values, agenda, and skills so you can make decisions. Of course this will change as you research and learn but if you come in with no idea (other than to just do everything right), making decisions will be impossible. A wicked problem doesn’t have a right answer, and looking for the one answer will drive you in circles. Some vision that can focus your efforts onto a particular approach, sector, skillset, or even intervention will allow you to evaluate your project and opportunities throughout the process. Build in flexibility. If you are commited to expanding water access via wells, that may be fine, but don’t commit to building a well in a place you know only a little about that may not be able to maintain or use this well.
  • Not every Social Enterprise Can be for Profit: While there are a few places that a for-profit social enterprise can work without undermining its own impact, this is not true for every sector. The debate on for-profit and not-for-profit social enterprise is ongoing, but from our time in India there were lots of examples of good social enterprise ideas that would just never see a real profit. Some sectors just don’t have the profit or business  infrastrcuture to make money and have the same scale of impact. For-profit social enterprise is not the same as a non-profit organization (or unprofitable business) that can generate income, pay reasonable salaries, and make a profit.
  • Be Patient and Open: While advice on being flexible is common and obvious, this flexibility must come from an openness to learn. If you are not open to being surprised or wrong at times you won’t be able to find the true insight that will help you design a smart enterprise. Take time to talk to all different people and don’t write off any perspective or person without properly understanding their take–you never know who you might be speaking with.

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