What, you may ask, does Frankenstein have to do with social entrepreneurship? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out. Today, the impact ecosystem is fragmented, and social entrepreneurs must patch together solutions from disparate parts into a kind of Frankenstein monster that doesn’t quite fit. In our session at SOCAP23, we focused on the importance of creating a social entrepreneur-centric (#socentric) ecosystem to support social enterprises on their journeys to create lasting impact.
For large-scale events like SOCAP, this begins with creating different kinds of spaces to listen to social entrepreneurs. Given the power dynamics and the typical mode of engagement at these events, entrepreneurs are typically either “on display” selling their products or pitching to raise capital. One of the goals for our session was to create this listening space and idea exchange between the entrepreneurs and key players in our ecosystem.
During facilitated breakouts, small groups brainstormed ways to create more seamless support for social enterprises. Some key themes emerged, including the need to build long-term relationships with other organizations, create comprehensive databases of resources, and leverage technology to connect social enterprises with mentors and support. Here are some of the common takeaways.
1. Building Long-Term Relationships
Conferences like SOCAP provide opportunities for social enterprises to focus on developing long-term relationships with other organizations. Rather than making random connections, social enterprises need to strategically identify and collaborate with organizations that align with their mission and values. Accelerators, investors, corporations, and others in the impact ecosystem can help by sponsoring entrepreneurs to attend conferences, making introductions, and building bridges of support. These relationships act as a strong foundation for support and mentorship throughout an entrepreneur’s journey.
2. Creating a Database and a Common App
To facilitate a supportive ecosystem, creating a centralized database of resources is essential. This database would serve as a repository of knowledge, connections, and tools that social enterprises can access to overcome challenges and fuel their growth. Borrowing from the college application process, a “common app” for support programs with consistent questions, language, and metrics, would greatly simplify access to resources. Finally, there’s a need for personalized guidance from a knowledgeable source who can walk entrepreneurs through complex processes.
3. Using Technology for Matching
Technology can be pivotal in connecting social enterprises with the right mentors, partners, and resources. By using advanced matching algorithms and platforms, entrepreneurs can find the support they need more efficiently. This technology not only saves time but also ensures that the connections are well-matched for success.
4. Embracing Vulnerability and Listening
Building an entrepreneur-centric ecosystem requires vulnerability and active listening. Entrepreneurs, support organizations, and investors must be open to sharing their challenges and learning from one another. By creating a culture of openness and transparency, the ecosystem can adapt and evolve to better meet the needs of the social enterprises it serves.
5. Going Deep or Surface Level
A debate emerged during the session about whether ecosystem builders should focus on deep engagement with a small number of entrepreneurs or maintain a surface-level connection with a larger group. While the group acknowledged that many ecosystem partners focus on breadth, participants leaned toward going deep, as this approach allows for more tailored support and a better understanding of the unique challenges each entrepreneur faces.
6. Cohesion and Collaboration
Creating cohesion within the ecosystem is vital. Entrepreneurs in different stages should work together and share their knowledge and experiences. Support organizations have a role in facilitating this collaboration, which can lead to more profound insights and better problem-solving, ultimately benefiting the entire ecosystem.
7. Connecting Investors
Investors clearly play a significant role in supporting social entrepreneurship. It’s crucial to connect them to enterprises at various stages of development and make sure they buy into the impact of investing. Standardized impact measurement approaches would help ensure that the goals of both investors and social enterprises continue to align.
8. Political Advocacy
Social enterprises need political power and representation. The session highlighted the importance of lobbying on their behalf to provide the political leverage and resources to drive social change effectively.
Building an entrepreneur-centric ecosystem is essential for the growth and success of social enterprises. By creating long-term relationships, leveraging technology, and fostering collaboration, the ecosystem can provide entrepreneurs with the support and resources they need to make a lasting impact. Some keys to success lie in embracing vulnerability, active listening, and a shared commitment to creating a thriving ecosystem where entrepreneurs can flourish. Ultimately, this approach can lead to a more equitable and impactful social entrepreneurship landscape.
- Frankenstein photo courtesy of Eli Latimerlo.
- All other photos courtesy of SOCAP.