I attended the 18th Harvard Social Enterprise Conference last March 25-26, 2017 sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School in Massachusett, USA. Here are 10 lessons I would like to share and a call to action:
- Society has many problems. It is our responsibility to help and empower the marginalized and vulnerable groups. Choose one field, focus and be good in helping that niche group.
- Rules of capitalism are inadequate for society’s problems. The short-term reward system of executives to boost profit and stock prices is the culprit. We need to shift orientation not just to stockholders but to include society so we can be more caring to communities.
- Do not make trade-off decision between capital and mission. Abandon the ‘or’ and embrace the ‘and’ mindset. Have both money and meaning.
- Companies need to have a holistic standard. Advertising fair trade but not being fair to employees or even stockholders does not make one a social enterprise. Authenticity and accountability are indispensable. Doing good is not about having a good PR job!
- Think big. Ask help to scale up so more people can be helped. Avoid vested interest.
- Higher impact can be created, benefiting those who are not part of the mainstream. Who do banks ignore? A concessionary return on investment can be considered if prosperity can be expanded to the bottom of the pyramid.
- Be conscious of unintended consequences. A buy 1, free 1 can be effective in helping the marginalized, but it may put small suppliers out of business.
- Understand triggers. An action may lead to another. Consider wearables used by insurance companies in South Africa. The increase in physical activities led to buying of more healthy foods.
- Creating shared value is about win-win. People’s livelihood or behavior can change for the better but a company can use the business model as competitive advantage as well.
- Society need not stay the same. It can change for the better when companies take doing good as a serious business. Being a good company in an industry is not the same as being a good company in society. Be both!
A call to action for future entrepreneurs:
In 2000, Day 8 Business Academy was created as a social enterprise of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. to help the micro, small and medium scale entrepreneurs (MSMEs). Those losing money attend classes for free and so far, close to 10,000 people have been helped. Bringing it to the next level, Day 8 has teamed up with Gosingtian Ventures and launched the Young Social Entrepreneur Start-Up (YSESU) Challenge to fund and mentor young people thinking of entrepreneurship to create impact by solving a social problem through their enterprise. Details about YSESU will be posted separately.