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Another Tool in Their Toolbox: Leading Through Crisis

Social entrepreneurs are uniquely qualified leaders. They have developed an extraordinary amount of grit, in large part due to their determination in delivering positive social impact to those in their communities who need it most, often in the most difficult-to-reach places. Growing a business with a business model and a social mission, a financial model and a heart, and navigating between the startup, impact investment, and international development worlds are challenging undertakings, to say the least.

At Miller Center, we are privileged to have supported over 1,000 social enterprises all over the world and are dedicated to continuing to accompany these organizations as part of our alumni community. When over 80 of our alumni joined our crisis management webinar on March 18 with less than a week’s notice, we knew we needed to do more to accompany our social business leaders through the pandemic. It was clear from our alumni outreach that the crisis presented a new set of challenges to even our most sophisticated entrepreneurs. Like many businesses around the world, they faced difficult, sometimes paralyzing, questions like:

    • “How do I serve my community while protecting my team?”
    • “How do I prioritize the well being of my business and the well being of my stakeholders?”
    • “How do I make the difficult decisions to cut cash flow and make layoffs?”

onenergy facemask looking at bookFortunately, our network of Miller Center mentors includes many individuals who have experience leading their own organizations through previous economic crises. Miller Center Executive Fellow, Steve White, quickly drew from his decades as a CEO and 10+ years as a mentor to create a focused program to support leaders through this crisis. Over the course of three weeks in late March and early April, we designed, produced, recruited for, and launched our GSBI® Crisis Business Planning Program (CBPP) and made the curriculum videos publically available on our COVID-19 resources page.

We offered a pathway for our executive mentors and social business leaders to follow, one that provided an avenue to accelerate the resilience, perseverance, and optimism embodied by these entrepreneurs, and turn their grit into a vision for continued impact.

Over the course of the three-week GSBI CBPP, social entrepreneurs and their mentors worked intensively through a focused framework to clarify and articulate their current situation and primary objectives, then develop an action and recovery plan, identifying critical funding needs and the effect on their impact, and also projecting funding requirements over the next 3-years with a focus on cash flow. The program built upon content created in the weeks after COVID-19 took root in the American consciousness, including A Survival Checklist for Your Enterprise, Pivoting Your Business in Response to COVID-19, Crisis Cash Flow Management, and many more targeted resources for social impact business leaders, shared here on our COVID-19 resources page.

While the details within each of the revised plans developed by social entrepreneurs in the program varied, several themes emerged from the collective response these leaders developed in answer to the increased uncertainty and challenges imposed by the pandemic.

    • Each business leader’s top priority was to protect their staff and their communities to the best of their ability, which included obvious measures like transitioning to virtual work where possible, as well as other measures like deploying emergency grants to offer food stipends to keep communities fed, as All Across Africa has done for their communities of artisans in Rwanda, Uganda, and Ghana.
    • Their missions have been reinforced by COVID-19 — it is clear the impact they are delivering is as important as it ever was, as the dire needs in the world have only magnified over the last months. Taking decisive action is critical to preserving their ability to execute toward the mission. Dandelion Africa is already planning for how they will support an expected increase in unplanned pregnancies and mental health issues stemming from the Kenyan lockdown.
    • The pandemic has created a forcing function for innovation in products, processes, financing, distribution, marketing, management, and just about every business consideration. Social enterprise leaders are adapting their assets and capacity toward a new commercial configuration. ONergy Solar quickly pivoted from manufacturing solar kits to developing “corona care kits”, employing rural Indian women to manufacture face masks, face shields, and safety goggles. Nazava is pivoting from selling water filters through MFIs and group sales presentations in Indonesia toward other marketing channels such as online and through affiliates.

During and following the program, participants utilized their new plans and new ways of thinking about cash flows to communicate their COVID-19 response to staff, boards, and existing and new funders. Evaluating three potential scenarios (best, medium, and worst cases) they articulated how the organization will navigate each. Having a mentor accompanying them through this process as a trusted advisor, already familiar with the business, was instrumental to the speed in which new plans were developed.

For Matt Dickson, Founder of Eggpreneur, “It helped me rearrange my organization in the midst of this pandemic, from situation assessment to action plan to how cash flow will be affected, and how I should prepare to go through the storm.” Matt’s mentor, Scott Brown, paraphrased a General Eisenhower quote, “Plans are worthless but planning is everything,” along with his gratitude “for a wrinkle in time for that exploration.”

We at Miller Center continue to be uplifted by the ecosystem of helpers and leaders, the social entrepreneurs who are architecting hope and scaffolding infrastructure required for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We look forward to seeing how the broader impact community pushes through the current challenges, creating new methods for changing the world for the better.

Miller Center’ Crisis Business Planning Program is designed to help social enterprises who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The program guides you through evaluating the impact of the crisis on your business and helps you quantify the financial impact and develop mitigation strategies to ensure you can survive and thrive in this new environment.

We have just completed the pilot offering and are gauging the community’s interest in participating in a near-future offering of the program. If you are interested, please tell us more here.