Becoming a Social Entrepreneur: What Comes Next and How to Get There?
by Aparna Katre
Aneesha, a high school sophomore from New Jersey, was spending the summer vacation in her home town in India. While learning to sew from the local women, she was appalled at the challenges they faced. Despite highly valued weaving skills and long work hours, the women barely earned a suitable income. An inspired Aneesha took action and launched a social venture, Hope Line Fashions. As a young high school student, she does not have traditional ideas for conventional aid to alleviate the women’s situation. Instead she is ambitious, perhaps less realistic than others, and she is not afraid to aim at seemingly impossible goals.
The inherent conundrums that accompany young social entrepreneurs with little to no first-hand experience, like Aneesha, warrant attention.
1.) How do they gain the first-hand experience needed?
2.) How do they cultivate social innovation contacts?
3.) What do they do next?
4.) How do they obtain the resources to take the next steps?
Ultimately this boils down to one question. How does a young entrepreneur get started in the field of social innovation?
Aneesha’s Approach to Social Innovation
My interview with Aneesha reveals answers to these questions, also confirmed by my research on nascent social ventures. Unlike the actions suggested in strategic management books, Aneesha did not start with a business plan. Instead, her actions emerged by looking at the most immediate situation at hand as a problem, exploring the resources she could get through her contacts, listening to the suggestions of her teachers and friends, and taking actions to actually solve the problem. For example, she had to buy sewing machines for the women but had no money. To solve this problem, she looked at the means at her disposal -- i.e., the ability to raise funds (as she would do for a school activity) and to approach people she knew as possible donors. However, she needed a compelling narrative with which to approach donors, so she videotaped the women’s sweatshop conditions and showed the video to potential donors. In solving the problem, Aneesha not only acquired the skills to effectively communicate the social need but also onboarded new stakeholders, those who funded the sewing machines.
Aneesha’s case and the author’s research suggest that social entrepreneurs view the situation at hand as a conglomeration of problems. The triad of problem-solving, listening and taking action, and staying tuned to resources in the immediate environment allows the venture to progress. In this process, the entrepreneur develops resources for the venture, acquires new skills and capabilities and grows her/his personal networks.
What’s Next for Aneesha?
Aneesha’s organization, Hope Line Fashions has executed profitable projects in the last three years as well as provided meaningful employment to the women. What problems do you think she needs to tackle next? Would forming a new board that can provide the knowledge and resources to address the next set of problems help? How would you suggest she go about it? What advice would you give her as a nonprofit leader?
posted September 5, 2012