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Social entrepreneurship: Sustainability and scaling up

Social entrepreneurship: Sustainability and scaling up

The right approach to social enterprise growth

Image above: Tony trains women on how to make bags from fabric waste and thrashed water sachets

The survival of a social enterprise depends on adopting sustainable solutions to solve social problems. In the final piece of this series, Aditya Kulkarni and Tony Joy offer social entrepreneurs strategies on how to create a lasting business model.

Find the commercial angle

Like other businesses, money keeps the engine of a social enterprise running. Money determines how much social value a social entrepreneur can provide. Thus, getting a steady income to run a social enterprise is very important.

Aditya was studying for his PhD in Singapore when he decided to launch CareNx to address maternal and child mortality in India. With little money, Aditya launched the pilot phase of the project in 2014 but the project couldn’t scale-up because there was no funding. It wasn’t until he commercialised some aspects of the project – in a way that made it affordable to lot of people – that the it began to scale up.

According to Aditya, “Raising money is a big challenge for most social enterprises because they are not primarily focused on making money. However, slowly they realise that if they don’t have a commercial angle to their model, their project is not going to scale.

Finding investors

He adds, “Impact is not something you can sell to social investors or private organisations. They will ask for return on investment. That is why you need to personally invest or get people who are equally passionate about what you do to invest in your work at the initial stage.”

CareNx Innovation team

CareNx Innovation team

Now in its third year, CareNX has received funding from local and international organisations including the UN Women Committee and the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), hosted by the Indian Institute of Technology .

However, Tony warns social entrepreneurs not to rely on grants.

“Developing nations like Nigeria are getting to a stage where they are being treated like a developed nation. This means they do not really need aid from external sources. As a result, the grants are going to stop at a point.”

Pass on all that you know to create a lasting structure

Beyond money, another way of creating a sustainable social enterprise is to create a structure that outlives you. In 2016, Tony trained six women on how to make bags from fabric waste and thrashed water sachets. She also helped them to find a market for their product. However a month later, Tony left – for a fellowship in Kanthari, India, in April 2017 – and the women couldn’t continue the business.

“I didn’t show them the market or teach them how to communicate in English so that they can be able to communicate with potential buyers of their product.”

This taught Tony to share her know-how with all her staff and volunteers.  

“When I came back in December, I felt like crying. Now, I have learnt my lesson. If I don’t come to the office, the community cut the grass by themselves and take charge of operations. The women know where to go when they want to sell their product.”

Bamboo art and crafts made by Durian

Bamboo art and crafts made by Durian. Image credit: Durian

So far, Tony has taught these women marketing and leadership skills. She has also organised an adult education class for them so that the women can converse in English.

Tony says social entrepreneurs must ask themselves this crucial question: “Can my organisation run in my absence, with or without staff?”

“I believe in allowing your staff to lead. Put down as much information as you can on how your social enterprise can run independently of you. I have realised that when I allow the staff to take initiative, it gives me the opportunity to sit back and think of other ways to network with people and move the organisation forward.”

Evaluating and measuring impacts

According to Tony, social entrepreneurs should measure their impact from three angles – socially, economically and environmentally.

“You may not be able to meet all the impacts on your own but this is where collaboration comes in.”

Aditya advises social entrepreneurs to design their impact matrix in line with those of experts in the field. This means your impact matrix will be a similar model to that of international development organisations like World Bank. 

“Just because we followed this process, it was easy to communicate with development agencies in and outside of the country,” he says. “You have to follow this impact matrix accordingly otherwise there will be only friction between you and them.”

Aditya Kulkarni

“Raising money is a big challenge for most social enterprises because they are not primarily focused on making money. However, slowly they realise that if they don’t have a commercial angle to their model, their project is not going to scale.”

Aditya Kulkarni

Tony Joy

“I believe in allowing your staff to lead. Put down as much information as you can on how your social enterprise can run independently of you.”

Tony Joy