Making a (social) Impact
2016 has really been the year of “Big Ideas” for me, after participating in TEDx, Start-Up Malta, Zest and Dream Big events over the past months. It was great to be part of creating a supercharged atmosphere at these events and uplifting to see the enthusiasm of young people aiming to turn their ideas into businesses. If that wasn’t enough, I was invited to speak at Capital Invest, a leading european Social Impact gathering of VCs, Angels and Policy-Makers in Amsterdam this weekend. (http://capitalweek.amsterdam/session/capital-impact)
It was a pleasure and an honour to be invited to the annual week-long entrepreneurship and start up event Amsterdam this weekend as a speaker in the Capital Impact day that focusses on social investment, locally and globally. The event included contributions from high profile venture philanthropists and institutions including Prince Constantine, Rabobank and others. Representatives from the various Impact Hubs that are a central gathering of entrepreneurs, start ups and social enterprises were present, as were business angels and VCs.
I was asked to speak after being singled out by the panel at TEDx earlier this year, and contributed along with 4 other entrepreneurs (and some video contributions) from Netherlands, India, South Africa, UK and the US (and of course, Malta) to a crowd at A’DAM, the ‘in’ place for business events in the city. A series of workshops on access to funding and capital, scale-up, partnerships and other subject ran throughout the day.
I was asked to close the speaker session as the 5th presenter, after a jewellery company that is fighting blood diamonds trade, an inventor that created edible cutlery to vastly reduce plastic in India, a ‘waste transformer’ that turns organic waste into fuel in a 40 foot container you can place anywhere, and a tea company that went from a little caravan in South Africa to shops in New York and London; it was a hard act to follow 🙂
I told my brief life story, including some of the endurance challenges I completed for charity, and then focussed on the work Inspire and Empower/LSF are doing to make an impact in the lives of persons with a disability. Through education and therapy, Inspire is helping children develop and reach their fullest potential, whilst Empower and the Spiteri Foundation are taking them the next step closer to independence by creating jobs with support.
I focussed on how our individuals and teams make a difference to society, whilst earning a fair living and running a professional operation. Social purpose does not have to be amateur.
Social Impact is different to social enterprise and not-for-profit. It is all about running a profitable business that makes a difference to the community within which it acts. Popularised by TOM shoes, it is now becoming a credible career choice, alongside the tech and finance sectors in the future of work. The social impact idea has evolved from social enterprise and has added (arguably) a profit model that forces long term sustainability by creating an expectation of return to the investors. This ensures that the organisation stays focused on making the right decisions for sustainable business, whilst continuing to make an impact through it’s purposeful strategies.
Whether it’s edible spoons that aim to overthrow the global plastic cutlery industry (and probably make the owner very wealthy), or our local Contribute Water company that wants to see it’s bottles in every kiosk and cafe in Malta to fund wells in Malawi, the result of this growth is that the world becomes a better place.
Discussions around the end justifying the means abound in this space. At what point is the profit / impact balance tipped and the organisation compromises it’s values to make more money? Or the reverse, that the focus on the idea forces the company into insolvency because the financials weren’t rigid enough. Either way, society loses out. Profit is a strong driver that may be necessary to sustain social impact.
The blurring of the lines between ethical business, social impact investment, social enterprise and non-profit trading is somewhat confusing to a young entrepreneur entering this space. An individual with a conscientious idea to make the world a better place has many options and directions for his or her startup. Do they focus on making a healthy profit and give money to charity further down the line, or do they share their revenue as they go along? Ironically, neither of those are the point. The message that runs through the whole social impact idea is that through the way you run your business, you are making a difference to the world. By employing women or marginal groups, treating workers fairly in a country where they are abused, sourcing materials from a sustainable supply chain even if more expensive, using your product to help the environment or to build up communities, the impact is part of the very fibre of your business model.
So does this have to be a start up? Interestingly, most of this space is taken up by start-ups that want to turn an idea into reality, however I believe that we can turn existing businesses into social impact companies by balancing the priority of our strategies more equally to social responsibility. Present business can have equal, if not more of an impact on society than a start up with the new idea. The start up may have a long way to scale up before it can make a tangible difference, but an established company can make a difference in a much shorter time.
A bottled water supplier sacrificing their more economic source to a more sustainable one, or changing a manufacturing process or supply chain to be more eco-friendly, or change their human resource policy to engage marginal groups, disabled or long-term unemployed. Giving money to charity is all well and good, but that depends on your business success. Why not make social impact your business scope, and be successful on both counts?
This requires strong leadership for a paradigm shift, because it changes the very core of the business. Indeed, it would probably require a change of leadership, strategy and stakeholders. Is anyone that brave (or mad) to dismantle and rebuild a successful business? Convincing investors and stakeholders to forgo profits (initially) to invest in social purpose is not going to be easy. A mindset of performance to squeeze every efficiency out of every business process opposes the idea of investing time and money into social impact activities. However, there are plenty of examples of successful business in spite of social purpose. It might just be the opportunity to take your business to the next level!
For coaching and support on how you can include social impact drivers into your business and start to make a bigger difference, or if you are an entrepreneur that wants to make a difference and needs support, please get in touch with us at [email protected] or call +356 79476111