Starting a Social Enterprise takes Passion and Innovation
This article originally featured on the Shell Live Wire Blog in May 2014.
A social enterprise is profit-making businesses which tackle a societal or environmental issue.
With social enterprise, there is a higher purpose for your business beyond profit margins. This is why I feel so passionate about this sector.
4Lunch was founded on the belief that everybody can enjoy good food, and that food-based activities can improve employability. Cooking is not a talent. It is a skill that can be taught and delivers an almost immediate sense of achievement.
Social Enterprise in Action
Youth unemployment when I started my business was unacceptably high. I was inspired to do something enterprising through my volunteering experiences. A great way to get into social enterprise and understand first-hand the problems in communities is to get out of your comfort zone.
During my volunteering, I soon realised that whilst the charitable sector was doing its best with the resources it had, there was a need to be more enterprising and innovative. I found the culture resistant to change. Whilst I was developing 4Lunch as a social enterprise, I was criticised for ‘running away with ideas’!
Taking Initiative to become Innovative
It was crushing to be made to feel bad for using my initiative. It is indicative of the type of change that needs to happen within the voluntary sector if social enterprise is to have the impact it should. There needs to be a deeper understanding and acceptance that business methods can be a more sustainable way for organisations to deliver on their social mission.
Every person embarking on starting up a business will agree that surrounding yourself with positive people is integral to your success. For me, 4Lunch is a reflection of who I am as a person, meaning that all of my successes are truly mine. In the same way, setbacks and criticism can be taken personally. Winning business is like applying for a new job every day, and sometimes things either don’t go as planned or move slower than you expected (I think impatience is a common trait of entrepreneurs!).
Run Away with Ideas
Be ready for challenges, build up resilience and a thick skin. Just learn to enjoy the ride and make peace with the certainty of uncertainty. Working within social enterprise has the added benefit that you are contributing to something bigger than yourself. This can help you ride out the tough times.
For all budding entrepreneurs: the key piece of advice I would give to you is to ask for help. There is so much support available, so make use of it!