Are recent graduates choosing social enterprise as a viable career path?
Social enterprises are great places to work. They're places where ideas are nourished, personal working styles are respected and the brain is stimulated. And they can pay well, too
By Tiana Reid
Crofton Park library in Lewisham is run as a social enterprise, places that are stimulating and that challenge graduates. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
A few months ago, I graduated from university, and now, I'm confronted with questions – mostly rhetorical – from my peers about what we're doing with our futures. More school? Travel? Corporate gig? Freelance? For those of us privileged to be recent university graduates, the choices are seemingly endless.
However, working for a social enterprise – or starting one – is not typically on the docket of new career planning. As a Canadian who works in social enterprise, I'm aware of the tight communities that exist in the UK and the US – communities that cannot be compared with those in Canada. This disparity exists for multiple reasons: geography, political climate and legal structures all have an impact on the level of awareness and influence of regional social enterprises.
Two recent Globe and Mail articles, "Canada playing catch-up in social enterprise" and "New businesses are cooking up more than just profits" reveal the status of social enterprise in Canada. In universities, it's a similar conversation – or lack thereof. For recent graduates who haven't specifically studied social entrepreneurship, is social enterprise a viable career option? Do they consider it a risk? Do they even consider it at all?
On the one hand, Simon Denny, social enterprise development director at the University of Northampton, recently wrote a piece about how his university is implementing strategies in order to become the UK's leading educational institution for social enterprise. On the other hand, many universities don't substantially integrate social enterprise (or even a social side to business) into undergraduate university programmes. Should they? Ever since university has become increasingly accessible in the industrialised world, there has been an effort to preserve the "generalness" of liberal arts education.
It's often been assumed that entrepreneurial skill is unteachable, however, a recent study from one of the world's most recognised entrepreneurial universities, Babson College in Massachusetts, found that entrepreneurship can be taught. The same reasoning can be applied to address social enterprise's place in higher education. In part due to a lack of awareness, but also due to a lack of infrastructure, the value of studying social enterprise has yet to be fully understood.
The Babson study showed evidence that the proportion of those intending to become entrepreneurs decreased after graduation for a number of reasons, including the acceptance of salaried positions because the need for job security. The same argument, again, could be applied to social entrepreneurship. But what about working in one? Although it may be more difficult, recent graduates can find salaried jobs in social enterprises doing what they know and love. Numerous posts pop up, for example, researcher, social media co-ordinator, editor, web developer, public relations officer, marketing strategist, and community manager. There are countless jobs in social enterprise that span degrees and skills, and are certainly not limited to people who studied social enterprise.
Is lack of awareness the issue for undergraduates not choosing social enterprise as a career option? I have been astounded by the influence of the communities in the UK in creating discussion and establishing support. But are we preaching to the choir? In 2007, The Guardian'sMarianne Barriaux wrote that, despite the presence of approximately 55, 000 social enterprises in Britain, only a quarter of of the population were aware of their existence.
Let's say that awareness isn't the issue. Could it be because recent graduates believe that working in a social enterprise will mean a cut in their imagined salaries? Barriaux argued that social enterprise can (and does) create lucrative career opportunities for some, and even some that attempt to match salaries in the private sector.
Furthermore, part of what it means to be a social enterprise is to offer a great place to work. Places where ideas are nourished, personal working styles are respected and the brain is stimulated. Most recent graduates would divulge that they would prefer to work in a challenging and invigorating environment. This aspect of social enterprise needs to be promulgated, and also that social enterprises span all career areas – from fashion to finance to food.
Interestingly, Babson found that the more entrepreneurship students were dissatisfied with their jobs, the stronger their desire to become entrepreneurs. Similarly, this has been a trend I've found through interviewing dozens of people who work in social enterprises: many of them expressed a level of dissatisfaction with their (corporate) jobs before they changed career paths.
Will it take a hoard of miserable employees to make the leap to social enterprise? Let's hope not. Maybe it will take time and awareness; maybe it will take more social enterprise-focused university programmes. Nevertheless, it will indubitably take the ideas and energy of recent graduates to ensure the longevity of social enterprise. And that's worth shouting about.
U.S. NPO seeks 'social entrepreneurs'
Ashoka branch targets youths who strive to think outside the box, help others and benefit
By MAMI MARUKO
Seeking innovators: Bill Drayton (center), founder and CEO of Ashoka, stands with the organization's Japan office representative Kashiwa Maki (left) and senior adviser Nana Watanabe at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday.YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
A U.S.-based nonprofit organization that has helped "social entrepreneurs" around the world opened a Japanese office this month, its first branch in East Asia, with the goal of creating a similar community in a country where the concept itself is little understood.
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, founded in the United States in 1980, has provided financial and professional support to people who combine social service and business entrepreneurship. It now has a network of nearly 3,000 people worldwide.
At a news conference Monday, Ashoka's founder and CEO, Bill Drayton, said Japan has high potential for fostering social entrepreneurs with new ideas, because "there is no other country in the world that has grown as much as Japan has in the last 150 years," he said.
Kashiwa Maki, representative of Ashoka Japan, said one of the goals of the new office is to select social entrepreneurs to form a network of "Ashoka fellows" who can change society with more speed.
With the launch of its Japan office, the group started its "youth venture" program, which, according to Ashoka, helps youths in Japan with ideas to solve social problems and "to learn the skills of teamwork, leadership and empathy that they need in order to be successful future leaders."
Drayton said he noticed that all of the social entrepreneurs his organization has supported had something in common: They all had experience creating innovation at a young age.
"Once you create innovation at age 15, the chances are you will be a change-maker at age 30," he said.
Ashoka first launched the youth venture program in the United States in 1996, and has since started the program in 16 other countries, including Brazil, Israel and the Netherlands.
"It's important to cultivate a good environment for the youths where they can spread their ideas more and implement those ideas, which might be a solution to some of the problems in society," Maki said.
Maki noted not all youths have a clear vision from the beginning of what they want to do to change society, but that most have the potential of being a social entrepreneur. "When (youths find) out that something is going wrong in society, there's a high chance (they) want to solve that problem," said Maki, a former company worker who in 2003 launched a project in the U.S. providing support for children with developmental disorders.
Most youths already have charcoal inside themselves to build a fire with, he said, noting it's just a matter of starting the fire inside them.
Although youths need some kind of a mentor for guidance, they shouldn't wait for adults to tell them what to do, and should try to find solutions to problems themselves, Maki said.
"It's important to find a chain of youths that share the same kind of values. We will try to build up such a community among Japanese youths," he said. Ashoka is also trying to recruit adults who would lead them through the process.
Nana Watanabe, Ashoka's senior adviser based in New York who pushed for creation of the Japan office, agrees. "I find that many youngsters, from a very young age, try to say or do what the adults expect of them," she said. "But the kind of youths we're looking for are those that may even make the adults angry, youths that have the courage to act out of the box," she said.
From last May to July, Ashoka held a pilot program inviting youths between the ages of 12 and 20 to present their ideas to solve various problems in society — and then gave them feedback. A total of 33 teams, each consisting of a few youths, applied and presented their ideas mostly related to learning, education and living abroad. Fourteen teams have so far proceeded to the stage where they will turn their ideas into projects with the support of Ashoka.
With grants provided by JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Ashoka provides the youths with ¥100,000 as seed money and also gives them advice for launching their projects.
One of the projects launched is a program offering elementary school students, especially from low-income or single-parent families, with free tutoring service. Launched by Keio University students Haruki Okada and Tomoyuki Osonoi, both 20, the program sprang from Okada's idea that students from low-income families should not be deprived of opportunities to receive extracurricular education that would help them go to universities.
Okada said he had attended a high school with low academic levels, where he found out that many of his classmates came from low-income families and their parents could not afford to give them extracurricular education. "I thought it was not fair that bright young people lose future opportunities like this," he said.
Learning curve: Tomoyuki Osonoi (left) and Haruki Okada have jointly launched a program to offer free extracurricular teaching to elementary school children in Yokohama. MAMI MARUKO PHOTO
They did extensive research on which area in the Kanto region had large numbers of families receiving welfare benefits. They found out that Tsurumi in Yokohama was one such area, so they negotiated with the headmaster of a local elementary school and succeeded in starting a free tutoring service for its students. They rented a classroom for free, and organized volunteers who would teach students mainly Japanese and math.
On a recent Friday, six students came to the class, where each volunteer teacher taught one or two children. Twenty children showed up at a Saturday session.
Osonoi said the service has been well received by both students and parents since it started in September. "A parent said that her child was disappointed when the class was canceled once. I was happy that the students really wanted to come to learn," he said.
A fifth-grade student who took part in a recent class by the volunteer tutors said she likes to attend the class "as I can reinforce my studies and get closer to getting the best marks in tests."
"I would like to make this a model case, and spread the same kind of system all around Japan," OKada said. "There are so many problems accumulating in the world. My dream is to do something that has an impact of even changing the world in some way, and to bring profit to as many people as possible," he said.
Growing Pains for Social Entrepreneurs
Social enterprises are here to stay. Here's how they can grow to the next level, while still doing good.
By Toddi Gutner
The appeal of "doing well by doing good" is enormous. Perhaps that's why there are an estimated 30,000 social entrepreneurs applying business practices to solving problems of pollution, poor nutrition and poverty. But despite all the good feelings that come from solving our society's problems, the ability to take a social enterprise to the next level while growing and protecting the bottom line is quite a challenge.
"It is not easy to do a social enterprise," says Gautam Kaul, managing director of the Social Venture Fund at the University of Michigan. "In private enterprise, the sole aim is my shareholders. With a social enterprise, there is something more -- social impact -- [while] growth is misplaced," he says.
Still, there are a few guidelines that are important to keep in mind if you have an eye toward growth for your social enterprise.
Perhaps the biggest pitfall social entrepreneurs experience as they try to grow their enterprise is broadening their focus and product lines too quickly. A lot of startups make that same mistake.
"We have to stay very narrow, keep it very simple and just focus on bottled water," says Jeff Church, co-founder and executive director of NIKA Water. His enterprise is a for-profit company that donates 100 percent of its profits to support clean-water projects in Uganda, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Nicaragua. For his part, Church focuses on selling the water and donating the profits.
Other social entrepreneurs give the same advice. "The last thing you want to do is get a reputation for not focusing on your mission," says Andy Gold, an IT consultant who has a nonprofit enterprise that donates IT and other services to charitable organizations.
That said, some believe it's important not to rely too much on the mission as the enterprise grows. As with any business, the entrepreneur needs to ask, "What is the value [I'm] providing the consumer?" says David Murphy, CEO of Better World Books, a business that collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide.
Don't confuse helping society with ignoring the need to be business-savvy. While consumers may be willing to shift their buying behavior, they will only do so as long as the quality and cost are comparable to other similar products, says Church.
Indeed, many social entrepreneurs rely on the mission to sell their product or service. That may work initially, but it won't work in the long run as they try to scale up the business. For Murphy, "It's the selection, the online experience -- all the brand promises must be met. They come here because they want a great book at a great price," he says.
It's also imperative to think about capital structure -- creative use of debt, early-stage equity, and how to secure capital to finance growth. "It seems in the social-enterprise sector, people don't think about outside capital, which is essential to scaling up," says Murphy. To that end, there definitely is capital available. Foundations donate an estimated $200 million annually to social enterprises. There are also several venture funds that invest in social enterprises.
Hire great talent
A company -- whether for-profit, not-for-profit or a social enterprise -- is only as good as the talent it can attract and retain. In some cases, because of the appeal of the mission, a social entrepreneur can attract employees who wouldn't otherwise take a lower-paying job. "Working at a startup and being at the start of something socially engaging and important [allowed me to be] able to hire two really great candidates at a lower wage," says Church.
Still, social entrepreneurs should do what they can to remain competitive when it comes to attracting potential employees. Murphy of Better World Books created an incentive stock pool. "Top talent will be drawn to something exciting like a mission, but you also have to pay attention to incentives to draw in great people," he says.
To be sure, the best way to build up a social enterprise is to run it like you would any business. "In the beginning, you have to be three parts businessman and one part social [entrepreneur]," says Church. "… As you get the business successful, then you can begin to make it three parts social and one part profit.
Young generation talks about entrepreneurship
July 8, 2011 by Egi SEPTIADI
We met with Samuel, president of the Raffles Entrepreneurs Network last month, deciding to do so because of his article in Knowledge @ Wharton High School (KWHS).
We found it interesting to hear from the perspective of a young entrepreneur from Raffles Junior College. Below are his insights and experiences about entrepreneurship, taken from an article in KWHS (with permission):
For more information on these and other social entreprenuers, visit www.skollfoundation.org
“The fun [of being an entrepreneur] lies in the unknown. You wake up in the morning and don’t know what is going to happen during the day,” stated a panelist from the recent Start-Up@Singapore competition for young entrepreneurs. Sitting there with a friend, I was taken with the speaker’s honesty. I had heard this message of uncertainty in entrepreneurship, but never related so directly. Young entrepreneurs in Singapore find the risky nature of entrepreneurship intriguing.
This risk factor can also be a deterrent. Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product [the total market value of goods and services produced by a nation] has grown at an exponential rate for the past few decades. This, coupled with good governance, has propelled Singapore from a third-world to a first-world country. The average income of Singaporeans is now among the world’s highest. In order to maintain this high standard of living, Singaporeans prioritize job security and material comforts above all else. This mindset is then passed down to my generation, where most parents desire their children to work hard, get a college degree and settle down into a secure (and high paying) job, such as accounting or law. This has resulted in a dearth of homegrown teenage entrepreneurs.
My story would have been the same as many of my friends, if not for supportive parents and lessons that changed the way I looked at business and entrepreneurship. Here are three key takeaways from my journey thus far.
Anyone can be an entrepreneur:
My love for business started when I was just 9. I remember my first business transaction with great fondness. There was a craze for erasers with pictures of country flags on them. Everyone in my class was scrambling to buy them from the school bookshop, which was selling them for 50¢ a piece.
I begged my mum for extra pocket money to get the erasers. Agreeing, she bought them from a retail bookstore, mentioning in passing that each eraser cost only 10¢ per piece when bought in a box. Something clicked and I realized that I could sell the duplicates that I had for 40¢, effectively getting an extra 30¢ additional pocket money. I was right. My classmates lapped it up and bought out what I had to offer. I made $6 from those sales, which was big money to me at that time. From then on, I dabbled in more small ventures to increase my pocket money.
Whatever your business venture, stay on the right side of the law:
When I was 14, my classmates at Raffles Institution were growing into young men and needed food all the time. They often grumbled during class that break was too far away. Seeing this, I decided to buy small snacks (Pringles, M&Ms, etc.) directly from wholesalers and sell them to my classmates. It was a profitable business until I realized that consumption of food in the classroom was against school rules. The teachers promptly told me to stop providing this service. Every time I hear of someone caught for insider trading or a similar business-related offense, I can’t help but reflect on the importance of staying legal, no matter how profitable the business.
Business is all about making money…. or is it?
My initial brush with entrepreneurship has kept me focused on the bottom line. ‘Make profits, not losses’ was my mantra. This perception changed when I attended a two-day bootcamp on social entrepreneurship organized by the National University of Singapore and Grameen Creative Lab (a subsidiary of the Grameen group of companies).
There, I heard a speech by Hans Reitz, right hand man to Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank who earned the name “banker to the poor” for his work providing microloans to people in Bangladesh. Reitz spoke about the need for social enterprises in today’s world, where ‘traditional’ businesses have perpetuated or even exacerbated the problem of the rich-poor divide. I began to see a whole new world of possibility, where business could be used to tackle [our] most pressing issues. I am currently pursuing this path, raising funds and creating awareness for Mercy Relief, a local humanitarian NGO [non-governmental organization] that does disaster relief and reconstruction projects in developing countries. I’m also part of a team that is developing a sustainable business model to empower Bhutanese children through art.
I have learned much from entrepreneurship thus far. Yet, this is only the beginning. During a networking session, a businessperson reminded me that “being an entrepreneur is very much like running a marathon. It is not a sprint, but a long journey where you will have to carefully pace yourself. And even when you hit the wall, you can slow down but you should never, ever stop moving.”
Samuel had already known how to grab opportunities around him since he was kid, which is one of qualities needed to become an entrepreneur. Now, he tries to make difference to the world with his passion for social entrepreneurship. Currently, he is studying at Raffles Institution, and with his team from the Raffles Entrepreneurs Network, he is trying to not only to encourage its members to embrace the spirit of enterprise, but also collaborate with other schools and institutions during this period.
Social Entrepreneurs: Pioneering Social Change
The Skoll Foundation has recently completed a short film about the field of social entrepreneurship. Its a great overview of the progress made over the last three decades. It starts with Mohammad Yunus and includes interviews with a number of social entrepreneurs and others in the field, including Sally Osberg of the Skoll Foundation, Bill Drayton of Ashoka, Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund, John Elkington of Volans, and author David Bornstein.
For more information on these and other social entreprenuers, visit www.skollfoundation.org
The young do-gooders who profit from their ethics
They're young, making money AND saving the world -- we should hate them, but we can't.
By Eddie Tee
How does one build a business with a conscience? Shaun Koh of Syinc.org explains how he got started in social entrepreneurship.
Youth is wasted on the young. They’re usually feckless, sometimes clueless, and fond of spewing cliché life statements and fighting words to show that they're fiercely independent and want to change the world before dinner time. But more often than not, it's NATO. No Action, Talk Only.
It's not always the case though. These same youths can sometimes shock us into considering what’s really important, so much so that we wonder what we’ve done with our lives. Meet three groups of young entrepreneurs who are determined to make the world a better place, without sacrificing an income.
Money or morality?
Shaun Koh of Syinc.org has a rule about social enterprises: "If making good is directly correlated to making money, then it’s what I call a social enterprise."
Shaun Koh of Syinc.org
The 24 year-old student took leave from his engineering course at the University of Michigan Ann-Arbor, to work on Syinc.org where he does everything -- from building databases to web strategies. He's designed a social innovation program for schools where students use design thinking to build more effective solutions to problems, as "opposed to merely going down to the beach to clean it up," said Koh to CNNGo.
Koh explains that the very notion of a profit-generating business that does good is quite new. Two years ago when he entered a social enterprise proposal into a business competition, the judges had no idea how to rank the venture because they were looking for the project with the most profit. Koh’s business was definitely not profit-focused.
But things have changed. "Nowadays, there are categories for social enterprises in business competitions. But most people think that social enterprises are about employing disabled people to make things and sell through the internet, but I think it’s not particularly innovative. Where is that Amazon with a heart?" he commented.
Amazon with a heart
Perhaps that example of "Amazon with a heart" might be found in Give.sg.
Zwee, Assem and Yu Ming of Give.sg
The website uses social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to help charities raise funds. The three founders, Assem Thakur, Zwee, and Pong Yu Ming, all fresh graduates from the National University of Singapore (NUS), designed it as a business that does good while sustaining itself.
Assem says, “There are big administrative costs for charities to hold an offline event -- about 20 per cent. Through Give.sg, we bring down the cost to 5 per cent. That’s how we give them a cost-effective solution and sustain Give.sg at the same time.”
A gathering of minds
Tomithy Too of SEforum
Tomithy Too, a second-year student at NUS, contributes to The Social Entrepreneurship Forum (SEforum), a place for social entrepreneurs to discuss projects, share practices and raise awareness of their work.
Too is convinced there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. "I’m exploring, finding meaning in my life,” he says. “And at this stage and point in time, there’s simply nothing for me to lose. So why not knock on some doors, look at some things, but most importantly create meaning as well?"
Right now Too is busy with a new project that's perfect for the information age. "We’re building a flash game that’s based on current events and personalities to help people understand what’s happening in the world."
Measuring the bottom line
Social enterprises do not rely on handouts to survive. They are ultimately businesses even if they fall into the 'do-gooder' category, but what they look for is a different matter entirely. They just want enough money to cover operating costs, and invest in research and development. How they earn it depends on their business model.
For example, profits could come from service fees that are worked into the system, ala Give.sg which devotes 3 per cent of the raised funds for partner charities to maintaining and improving their online services. Or it could follow a retail model, such as SEforum’s online shop Dothingsdifferent where shoppers pay cash for community goods, where 70 per cent of the selling price goes back to the community or programs set up by the social enterprises to benefit a social cause, environment, or community.. Response has been good for them as well -- according to Too, "Dothingsdifferent is on target to be in the black by the first year."
But that’s not all. They also have the added burden of having to quantify the amount of goodness that they’ve created for their beneficiaries. As with their profits and costs, the amount of goodness given is also measured in dollars and cents. Thakur estimates "that we will save our partner charities S$250,000 which can be used to help a lot of people."
Good first, study later
But social entrepreneurship isn’t a short-haul event. It’s a long-term investment of time and energy. Koh took a year off, and the Give.sg guys took it easy with their studies.
For them it’s time well spent. Yu Ming says, "Study is important [but it took a backseat] because we wanted to do something with our lives. We also wanted to give something back to the community. So we could always find time apart from our studies. We could sacrifice our fun time to do research, how we could do things, and how to connect with the right people."
And it’s not a one and done affair either. Our young entrepreneurs categorically state that they’re in it for the long haul. In fact, they’ve already mapped out roadmaps for their social enterprises. SEForum will continue their networking and information-sharing model for readers while at the same time, they hunt for local designers to create well-designed products to support the local cottage industry. As for Give.sg, the trio hopes to expand their online service into other Asian countries.
And it looks like it’s paying off, for them and those they help.