Social Entrepreneurship Is On The Rise: Soushiant Zanganehpour's Advice for 'Treps Acting As Agents Of Change
“In the future, we expect the fundamental values of social entrepreneurship to become incorporated into mainstream business practice. The implications of this for large businesses and brands will vary; some may see it as a threat while others will see this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves- to redefine purpose, responsibility and expectations in order to build loyalty with a new emerging consumer demographic.” This is Soushiant Zanganehpour talking, and as one of the MENA region’s experts of social enterprise, would-be founders should take note. His mission? To help impact-driven entrepreneurs survive and grow past the startup phase, in addition to advising mission-driven foundations and multinationals to build products and programs that integrate financial growth with social impact and help these companies measure and communicate outcomes.
Zanganehpour, in his capacity as a judge for The Venture, a global social enterprise initiative looking to fund social entrepreneurs, says that when pitching to investors, founders should be able to support their claims. “The top things I would focus on are answering the following: what is the pain you are solving? What proof do you have that the pain is real? How is your solution functionally better than alternatives? What benefits does it provide users? How is your solution economically sound and economically more efficient than all alternatives? Why are you the entrepreneur to solve it? In other words, what makes you tick?” Previously, as the Strategy and Operations Manager of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship based out of the University of Oxford’s Said Business School, Zanganehpour led the Skoll Social Venture Fund investing in social venture startups across the globe. With nearly a decade of experience in entrepreneurship, management and strategy consulting and policy across three continents, he is a recognized voice in the sector, and has been published in the areas of social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, and business sustainability. “Social entrepreneurship is on the verge of hitting a tipping point. There are many factors contribut- ing to this including the rise of Generation Y (millennials). This generation is a new, connected, socially-conscious, energized global cohort who finds this concept very appealing. This is demonstrated by the products they buy, and by the companies they seek to work for,” says Zanganehpour, discussing the ever-increasing global number of social enterprises.
Over the past four years Soushiant has executed diligence on many impact-oriented entrepreneurs and businesses, acted as a judge on multiple global impact venture award competitions, and mentored several social venture startups through their growth phase. Currently an adjunct lecturer at Sciences Po in Paris, France, teaching social entrepreneurship and impact investing at the Master’s level, Zanganehpour works closely with budding ‘treps both in a formal institutional setting and in a mentorships capacity. Why does social entrepreneurship seem to attract so many young professionals? “It isn’t just a trendy place for millennials to park themselves for a few years before they figure out their career. The field affords this new generation the independence they’re looking for to experiment with new approaches to business and social development and the freedom to integrate values that are important to them, making it an ideal way of building a future career. Naturally, given how nascent the field is, opportunities to earn similar financial returns to more developed fields such as finance and consulting are still rare, but this will change as more market based solutions begin to scale and the field attracts the attention of more investors, governments and big business who will come to support its growth.”
Q&A With Soushiant Zanganehpour
What do entrepreneurs entering The Venture stand to learn from the pitch process?
“Candidates entering The Venture competition this year have much to gain from preparing for the official pitch and presentation process. Externally, they will have to produce a narrative of their business or innovation that is compelling and makes logical sense to a group of people who may or may not know anything about their industry, sector, or problem area focus. This means they will have to be prepared to educate a lay audience or get granular about their projections and operations with a group of experts. The art of pitching, in essence is the art of empathizing and gauging the level of education someone has about your particular idea/ venture, realizing the gap you need to fill and how your pitch will get them from where they are to a much more informed, excited and optimistic position. Pitching is about convincing people about the benefits of your innovation, not its features. It’s about anticipating where criticism could come and what compelling arguments and information to use when and in what sequence so you are one step ahead. Doing so helps you convert skeptics into champions and evangelists. The opposite of pitching is a robotic linear top 10 list of boiler point pieces of information you communicate to people about your idea.
Internally, the pressure of the process that the entrepreneurs will go through will really force them to cut the fat from their narratives and make their points compelling and defensible. This will be a source of clarification internally about aspects of the business that are still undergoing refinement. When entrepreneurs have to defend their ideas in front of people who may not know much about their venture or put themselves in other people’s shoes, they will realize what parts of the business narrative still are fuzzy and need further clarification, and what parts are solid. Whether the entrepreneur walks away with the final prize is irrelevant; the skills they will learn through this process will pay dividends in many future personal and professional endeavors for years to come. They will also see a direct benefit from the process by enhancing their communication skills internally and externally.”
What social enterprise do you think is doing great things? Why is this a sound business model?
“One of my favorite social ventures in the world -full disclosure: I am on their advisory board- is BioCarbon Engineering. They have an audacious plan to reverse the course of deforestation by using industrial scale technologies to reforest the world! The destruction of global forests from lumber, mining, agriculture, and urban expansion destroys 26 billion trees each year. Our combined global reforestation efforts only replant approximately 15 billion trees each year. So, each year we run a deficit of nearly 11 billion trees. The team at BioCarbon are going to reverse this deficit by using drones, aproprietary 3D mapping technology, a paintball style shooting device, and pre-germinated seeds to replant 1 billion trees per year with approximately 50 drones. Their precision planting process significantly reduces manpower and costs of replanting, increasing the efficiency and likelihood of reversing this trend so we can enjoy healthy forests globally.
I believe their business model is sound because they have a very granular understanding of the problem at hand and its magnitude globally, and their innovation and solution is rooted in technology that can scale to address the magnitude of the problem globally. Also, the innovation is much more efficient than existing solutions and much less costly to scale. Finally, they are hedging their business risks by having multiple revenue streams to benefit from, increasing their odds of survival through the critical and unpredictable early startup years. Oh, and the team is really religiously dedicated to the problem of eradicating deforestation and passionate about finding the most fitting solution to it, not just their first clever approach using drones.”
Social Entrepreneurship: By The Numbers
“If brands and businesses want to attract top talent into their workforces, they’ll need to do more than simply provide a pay cheque," says Zanganehpour. "There’s a very real demand for change and for larger, more traditional organizations to bring smaller social enterprises and startups into their supply chains, as well as giving their employees opportunities to create shared value in society.”
73% The percentage of young professionals surveyed that said they wanted a job that allows them to make a direct positive impact on the local community.
70% The percentage of young professionals surveyed that said they’re seeking to start their own business in the next 5-10 years.
The Venture: #WinTheRightWay
The Venture is a new global social enterprise initiative searching for extraordinary startups and new ideas that use business to create positive change. If you have a GCC-based social enterprise or have an idea for a social enterprise, enter The Venture to potentially win your share of US$1 million.
Sahar Wahbeh, founder of Dumyé and The Venture 2014 Gulf winner, came away with a lot from her experience. The Dubai-based entrepreneur successfully pitched for the judges in last year’s competition, and represented the GCC at the U.S. grand finale of the social enterprise competition. “I believe through design, we have the power to shape our world for the better,” said the founder during her winning pitch. It’s a compassionate statement, and after beating out numerous applications, rising along with the top five finalists, what made Dumyé stand out in the sea of social ventures? To begin with, the inspiration for the startup is one of the most heartwarming aspects of Dumyé: her daughter. After searching for a doll to give as a gift to her daughter, Wahbeh, disappointed by the ones she found in the market, decided to create her own. This wasn’t enough for Wahbeh to “shift careers” though, until she realized that this could be her way to not only share her life values with her daughter, but also “actually live it.”
Wahbeh wanted her daughter to respect the environment, so the dolls are “made with a mixture of organic, sustainable and mostly natural materials,” says Wahbeh. “I need her to have compassion for others, which is why we commission an NGO [Pardada Pardadi Educational Society founded by Virendra Singh] in one of the poorest states of India to handle elements of our production.” This approach empowers women in their community to be self-sufficient, and the NGO uses their proceeds to educate the next generation of girls. Wahbeh also wanted to inspire generosity in her daughter, and so, every doll that Dumyé sells results in another doll gifted to an orphan through an art workshop, allowing the children to create a meaningful doll of their own.
Now, while it may have started out as a lesson for her daughter, Dumyé is now a successful social enterprise that boasts a presence in more than 20 countries, and they have worked with hundreds of orphans in the Middle East, currently looking to expand its ‘giving program’ into Africa and India. “Unfortunately we didn’t win the global final of The Venture, but there have been many memorable moments along the way and valuable input from all those involved in the program," Wahbeh says. "I am eternally grateful to The Venture for this and for supporting social entrepreneurs as we truly try to #WinTheRightWay.”