Social innovation is about finding creative solutions to the challenges we face as a society — from climate change to inequality. It's about finding new ways to solve old problems, with new approaches and new ideas. I had the pleasure to visit a panel of social innovators at CSI and it really inspired me thanks to panelists such as Kind Laundry, Marlow, and Friendlier, hosted by Angela Wallace. Social entrepreneurs face many challenges in their pursuit of social change. Social entrepreneurs often start out with a very specific idea about how they want to improve society, but they then face the challenge of figuring out how exactly their company will make money. When it comes to creating a sustainable business model, most social entrepreneurs find themselves caught between two opposing forces. On one side, they want to make enough money so that they can continue making changes in the world; on the other side, they want to keep expenses low so that more profits go toward improving lives rather than being used for overhead costs like salaries and office space. Finding a way to balance these biggest challenges faced by social innovators as they attempt to create successful businesses that also make a difference in society. Some of these challenges are unique to the field while others are common to all entrepreneurs. Here are some of the most significant challenges faced by social innovators:
It’s no secret that if you want to be successful with your business, you need to be constantly creating and sharing new content. Consumer education sites provide information about products and services that consumers need in order to make informed decisions about their purchases.
Logistics and costs rising while keeping products affordable
In the world of retail, there are many factors that influence the cost of products. But when it comes to the social impact space, we're seeing an interesting shift in how brands and retailers are approaching their pricing as materials continue to rise and the challenge to appeal to build brand awareness and reach through keeping costs affordable for the masses. Plus there's the stereotype that by doing good it has to be for that sole cause or reason. But the reality is that making a profit and coupling it with doing social good can absolutely co-exist!
Addressing messaging and cutting through the green-washing
The rise of climate change as a mainstream issue has resulted in many brands being forced to take a long hard look at themselves and their practices. With so much attention on making impactful changes, it’s tempting to try and get ahead of the curve by creating "greenwashing" campaigns that promise to do good without actually doing anything. Transparency is truly the best policy. Be open about the costs, time and effort it takes to continue to grow and implement these changes with your community of consumers.
If you're new to social innovation, or looking to get up to speed with this industry-disrupting movement, here are some helpful tips from some of the most innovative minds in the field:
Pick a problem you're passionate about
On the days that get difficult, knowing your why and falling in love with the process of iteration will help you continue the good fight.
Focus forward and not only about today
Look 2-3 years ahead and don't focus on the trend of sustainability today. Be a leader and create the foresight for change and pave the way. By starting to talk about it now, you will help position yourself as that leader in this innovative space.
Many imagine, but very few execute The art of doing and action in business is more than just dreaming. It's about taking the first step and going from ideation to execution. You see the same thing with startups. They often have no real product, no real customers and no real revenue — just a lot of talk about what they want to do. Let's focus on what's next. That's why most startups fail: because they never really launch anything at all. Don't get stuck in this cycle.
Community over negativity As you continue to grow and vulnerably put yourself out there, it can be scary. But by showing up in this way, you may be at risk for some negativity. Focus on the community of folks who continue to support you and your values. Those are your people! It can be exhausting focusing on the negative of what you could, should, would be doing instead as your business continues to grow and scale.
Attract regularly everyday consumers, not only early adopters
It is no longer enough to attract early adopters, the tech community and venture capitalists. Today, brands need to focus on the regular consumer and make the transition from a niche market into a mainstream one in order to break out of that brand discovery into the consideration and purchasing stages.
Focus on your numbers
So many businesses fail because they don't know their numbers. If you can hire a CFO or accountant, this will help provide support in this area from an expert. However focus your efforts equally as much on a healthy bottom line as much as the net revenue that can be very shiny or initially attractive.
Entrepreneurs have an opportunity to create new solutions to complex problems, and that they can have a significant impact on society if they are willing to take risks and put themselves out there. It includes the design and delivery of services that are intended to improve the lives of individuals and communities. Hope these tips inspire you to create change today!