Awaken Your Inner Social Entrepreneur: 12 Steps for Creating Social Change

Many of us live by the mantra “Be the change you wish to see.” Practicing in our own daily lives the changes we aspire to see on a larger societal scale, we strive to reduce our environmental footprint, support the causes we believe in, serve as a mentor or role model for others, and integrate social responsibility into our professional commitments. Each one of us has her own way of contributing positive social change.

Once in a while, the opportunity presents itself to do something more than that, to create or build on an entire endeavor devoted to solving a social problem or changing the way things are done for the better.

How can we be ready, when that time comes, to systematically build and grow a new venture aimed at creating positive change?

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What are the metrics we will use to find out if it’s working, and make sure we’re not unintentionally causing adverse consequences? Who do we talk to, to figure out whether we’re going about things in the most effective way, and actually tackling the problem at its core?

For my new book Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, I had the opportunity to talk to dozens of social entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the field. From Muhammed Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on financial inclusion in Bangladesh, to Bill Drayton, who consciously built a movement around social entrepreneurship in the U.S.A. and worldwide, to Dr. Laila Iskandar, the former Minister of Environment in Egypt who started out building recycling micro-ventures on trash dumps in the slums of Cairo– each and every social entrepreneur had her or his own perspectives and two cents to add. But they all had some advice in common.

Based on my experience working with colleagues all around the world to build and grow social enterprises, I’ve noticed there are 12 steps that many social entrepreneurs go through. They’re not linear in nature: you don’t proceed from one to the other without going back. It’s more of a cyclical, iterative process that builds on the information gathered (and the new questions that come up!) at each stage:
Teresa Chahine Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship

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1. Characterizing your challenge: Finding out what the root causes are, who they affect, where and how; and what others have attempted to do before you

2. Co-creating with the community: Listening to your end user, finding out what their experience has been, and how people are interfacing with this challenge

3. Designing your solution: Designing with and around your end user, innovating and iterating and prototyping different solutions, developing your theory of change

4. Market strategy: Testing out how your end user will interact with your solution, how they will access it, who you are competing with and who you can partner with

5. Operations, distribution, team: Nailing down the nuts and bolts of implementing and delivering your solution up til the last mile

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6. Success metrics: Defining what success looks like from the start, and track your progress along the way

7. Revenue models: Finding creative ways of ensuring financial sustainability for your intervention, to survive in the market and continue growing your impact

8. Pitching and networking: Mobilizing others around your cause, leveraging networks and resources for financial and non-financial support

9. Funding your venture: Navigating the different sources and types of funding, and social investment approaches

10. Building the organization: Structuring your venture, whether within an existing organization or as a new entity, so that it goes on beyond its founders

11. Communications: Building a communications strategy toshare information internally, externally and get your message across to different stakeholders

12. Managing Growth: Taking your impact to a whole new level, growing beyond your venture and reaching your goals


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Of course, none of these are silver bullets and none guarantee success. (There’s never one formula, or one way to get things right, as we discussed in my last post.) But it’s helpful to have a roadmap in your hands when you start out.

In most cases you’ll end up going off-roading, because after all, you’re out to carve new paths and blaze new trails! The important thing is to be as evidence-driven as you can:

Question all assumptions, especially your own.

Most importantly, keep your eyes on the prize. Your mission is the change you’re out to create, and the only thing you have to figure out is how to get there.

By trying out these twelve stages, you can give yourself a good shot at collecting the information you need. You’ll never have all the answers – none of us do. But by taking it upon yourself to try out new ways of doing things, to question the status quo and do something about it, you’re already halfway there to “be the change you wish to see.”


{Image credit: Ian Schneider, Unsplash}

About the Author

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Teresa Chahine is the Social Entrepreneurship Program Leader for Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. She created and currently teaches the first course on social entrepreneurship at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, where she got her PhD. She spends half her year in Boston and half in Beirut, Lebanon where she is Director of the venture philanthropy firm Alfanar. Teresa is currently working on her first book about—you guessed it—social entrepreneurship, which will be released in early 2016.

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