Challenges of Social Entrepreneurship

The ability to create a self-sustaining model that will generate the required monetary resources to not just run an enterprise, but to scale it

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Social entrepreneurship, a term first used in literature in 1953 by H. Bowen in his book "Social Responsibilities of the Businessman", is an altruistic form of entrepreneurship that focuses on effecting positive social change by using resources available to society. Unlike charities, individuals and organisations engaging in social entrepreneurship typically create business models that are self-sustaining, with little or no dependency on grants and aids. This naturally poses a very unique set of challenges for those venturing into social entrepreneurship.

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The Idea

As with any business, social entrepreneurship begins with an idea. When starting on your social entrepreneurship journey, remember to choose a cause that you are passionate about, and strongly believe in. The idea must have a widespread social impact upon the target community, offering a sustainable solution to complex and deep-rooted problems. It is also essential that the idea has inherent merit that will keep the organisation sustainable irrespective of the founder members’ presence. The idea has to develop into a working prototype, mature enough to attract investors. However, until that time,   entrepreneurs must be prepared to bootstrap their way upward, with the ability to sustain the organisation until the idea takes off the ground and becomes self-sustaining. Invest in what is critical and relevant for your prototype.

The Plan

While passion and ideas are important, a strategy is required to achieve the goal. A structured plan that answers the “what”, “where”, “when”, “who”, and “how” and that is created with an understanding of the environment within which the entity functions, enables the entrepreneur to face foreseen and unforeseen challenges, and achieve desired results. Social enterprises have to be creative in setting goals and problem-solving. Plans should also be flexible – so be prepared to think on your toes and build agility by having back up plans.

The Team

Often, an entrepreneur may need more skills than she herself possesses. Relevant experience comes in handy, so find the right partners who can contribute the right skills. Get buy-ins from people around you. Friends, family, and people you meet on your journey who share your vision feel strongly about your cause and can lend special assistance in terms of skills or contacts. Additionally, since social enterprises cannot offer the same monetary rewards as for-profit entities, they must be equipped to offer high levels of moral satisfaction. So, always acknowledge people’s contributions, give credit where due, and ensure that everyone feels valued at every step of the journey. Always be fair to people and conduct your business and yourself in a fashion that inspires confidence in the ethical fibre of the enterprise and the entrepreneur.

Visibility & Technology

In the internet and social media era, social enterprises have a unique platform that offers a wide, global reach to a huge universe of like-minded people willing to contribute skills, funds, and other resources. Crowdfunding platforms offer to reach to funds across geographical boundaries. In addition, the Internet allows for the pooling of design resources using open source principles. Collaboration among social sector entities has also become easier. It, therefore, makes sense for entities to invest effort and resources in maximising visibility on the internet and social media platforms.

Monetary sustainability

This last piece of the social entrepreneurship puzzle is not as much about finding donors as in a regular charity, but the ability to create a self-sustaining model that will generate the required monetary resources to not just run an enterprise, but to scale it. The idea is essentially to draw from surplus community resources to give back to communities lacking them. We can have after-school classes in community spaces such as public parks, by educated volunteers from affluent communities who generate the resources required to manage the day-to-day functions of the learning centre.  There should be a concrete plan and enough visibility in relevant circles to ensure that funds flow smoothly.

With these inputs, social entrepreneurship is not guaranteed to be smooth, but should definitely become less daunting.

Anubha Sharma

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Anubha Sharma, a financial services professional with a flourishing career spanning over two decades, is the co-founder of Mumbai based NGO Angel Xpress Foundation. An alumnus of Lady Brabourne College, Kolkata, Anubha has held regional and national roles at various organizations such as Kotak, Religare, Reliance Capital & Edelweiss. .

In 2012, while on a year-long sabbatical, Anubha started volunteering at a street school for slum children. Interactions with the children made her realizethat the education system serving the poor did not deliver, thus ensuring that most of them would remain locked in the endless cycle of poverty, generation after generation.

When a Facebook post asking for warm clothes for these children resulted in over 3000 people calling to offer all kinds of help, realization dawned that a bridge needed to be created between these socially conscious citizens and the children who needed their support to make something of themselves.

Thus, together with one of the callers, a preschool owner called Beenaa Advani, who expressed a desire to work with her, Anubha embarked on a social experiment to empower underprivileged communities through education and interactions, by collaborating with educated, socially conscious and affluent communities. What started with 18 children in 2012 has grown to a social movement involving 500 volunteers and 1900 children.

After becoming involved with Anubha, Beenaa Advani also decided to quit her commercial work and as co-founder of Angel Xpress has been a valuable contributor to the cause over the years.

Deeply inspired by many people who have gone beyond themselves to care for society as a whole including Mrs. Sudha Murthy, Anubha firmly believes that money serves a need but life is lived meaningfully when we give back. The AXF journey has been replete with challenges of myriad types and proportions, but a strong conviction in the impact of the work keeps Anubha going.

Anubha’s plans for Angel Xpress Foundation is to enable 2000 committed volunteers and through them ensure that 10,000 children a year benefit from the AXF Free Learning Center Program. This year the program has been expanded to include a youth mentoring segment that provides academic, vocational and career guidance and training to its graduating students, this has added the crucial missing piece in the creation of sustainable employment opportunities for underprivileged children and their families to help them rise from poverty into a life of dignity. After all, dignity of life is a fundamental human right.