In the last few months we have heard of several successful start-ups struggling to stay afloat. These range from taxi aggregators to e-commerce companies to data intelligence ones. Many of these failures are attributed to irrational incentives in the race to win customers as well as mind-boggling salaries to team members, like Flipkart. Thus creating a fragile environment where ultimately it will be difficult to convince investors to pump in money to fund an innovative idea or product.

Elsa Marie DSilva

Nevertheless, it is important that innovators continue to keep their eye firmly on the ball and try to solve the world’s toughest problems. Being a social entrepreneur myself and having worked with several others globally, these are 5 ideas for how to make your social entrepreneurship smart and sustainable.

  • Be clear about your vision and mission. As a social entrepreneur it is important to link your social cause to your business. If you are able to communicate that clearly and succinctly, you would be able to attract donors, investors, funders, partners, team members and followers. Teach for India was successfully able to get the partners required to scale and reach maximum children.

As a social entrepreneur it is important to link your social cause to your business.

  • Create a movement and a brand. As a social entrepreneur, you are solving a social problem through your business. Therefore, you should be able to attract people who are likeminded and passionate about the same issue. Make them part of your journey as much as possible. This in turn will help you not only create a movement and a following but will build your brand. What better way to market yourself than if your own people evangelise your mission. A good example is Tom Shoes where for every pair of shoes you buy, one is donated to a person in need.

What better way to market yourself than if your own people evangelise your mission.

  • Don’t be so caught up with impact that you forget business principles. Unfortunately social entrepreneurs might get so caught up with the day to day challenges of solving the tough issue they are working on that they might forget to run their organisation professionally. One has to balance the soft issue with tough business practices. Ensure you have a solid business plan, a robust internal system for finance and MIS, a professional team and a critical board. Social Quotient for example, is developing high impact and futuristic initiatives in the domain of skill development, education, water, environment, rural and e-governance.
  • Think long term and sustainability. Whilst you are solving the world’s toughest problems, don’t forget that someone has to pay for it. Ensure you work towards sustainability in the long term. Do not depend only on grants and donations but build your revenue model. Multiple channels are better than one. Learn what works and what does not and constantly keep an eye out for trends. Businesses that innovate and are adaptable survive in the long term. Sankara Eye Care Institutions has a model where 80% of eye surgeries are done for free on the very poor and rural communities and is paid for the 20% who can afford it.
  • Partnerships and Collaboration. If you want to go far, you have to collaborate. Look for the right partners who share your value system. Always work towards adding value to the partner organisation and the customer you are serving. Not only will they become part of your movement but also your brand ambassadors in achieving your social objective. Akshay Patra is now one of the world’s largest organisations serving children the mid day meal.