Archives for category: Social Enterprise

I have been struggling with this question for quite some time now. A few years down the line, I think I want to set up my own incubation fund. When I talk about it, people ask me – what kind of fund would this be – social or business? Given where I work, it seems to be a valid question initially. But I am not sure if I know the answer or whether I understand the question itself?

Let’s take a step back and ask – What is this thing called ‘social entrepreneurship’? Is it about helping the poor? But what does that mean? Is it about whether this support is free or comes with a cost? But doesn’t free support makes the beneficiary dependable? Is that a good thing? Is charity as a model sustainable?

Is social entrepreneurship about working in a non-profit? Does that mean that the people who want to earn the big bucks never stand a chance to do this? Or maybe they can earn a lot of money and fund large projects or recruit people to start several non-profits in their name and actually help millions? Doesn’t that sound better? Or maybe, it is about change – that I join a fledgling non-profit which does great work and turn things around, or I use my expertise and talent to help a non-profit deliver services efficiently and effectively.

Is social entrepreneurship about starting your own venture which focuses on the low-income segments as the primary beneficiaries? Should this ventures be a for-profit one? Or is that bad! But does that mean that Reliance and HLL are being run by social entrepreneurs? Don’t these companies have their largest customer segments in the low-income communities, both in urban and rural settings, or at least, that’s what’s gonna happen soon?

I am not sure what the answers to these questions are. But I have realized that the debate about right and wrong is by itself flawed.  At the end, it’s all being impact, no matter what road one takes. Whether one sets up an Aravind Eye Care, an Akansha Foundation, or an HUL? Some people even say that Infosys is the largest social enterprise in India. They have created livelihood for millions, made India stand high in the field of IT outsourcing, and changed world’s perception of our country itself. Isn’t that large scale socio-economic impact! Probably, that’s whats required. Maybe, all entrepreneurship is social. What do you think?

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Acara Institute, together with 3M, has developed a program, called Sales for Social Impact (SSI), to address social venture sales efforts. Many social ventures have an existing product or service to serve their market but struggle to sell it. This is very common, as most of these enterprises are underfunded, understaffed, and work on challenging problems. SSI is an introduction to the sales role in a social venture’s business (often a non-profit).

SSI has just launched with the beginning of this semester, with seven universities (Baylor, DePaul, Indiana, Houston, North Carolina A&T, Southern and St. Catherine University) in the US, and Makerere University in Uganda in collaboration with  a St. Paul, Minnesota non-profit – Compatible Technology International (CTI). The kind of holistic and  empathetic view required to successfully sell and market products and services at the Base of the Pyramid and is useful to not only understand that market, but is exactly the type of skill set a sales professional needs in any market.

The SSI course is structured like the Acara Challenge, with teams of students. Rather than a business plan, SSI teams deliver a a formal Sales Plan. It is an introduction to those who have never encountered these topics before, and as a way for those with prior coursework in these areas to put learning into practice. Both fields are constantly evolving, and we encourage students involved to use the resources we provide as a starting point for further research and discussion. Although the syllabus deals specifically with selling Compatible Technology International’s products in Uganda, the ideas presented can be applied to selling any product or service in any Base of the Pyramid market. By the end of the course, students should have formulated original research questions, generated new market research, and used that information to create a sales plan for a real product, in this case a food grinder from CTI.

This program fits Acara’s mission of helping to provide practical solutions to create societal change. We are quite excited about it, as the path to impact is directly through an existing business. Future blog posts will contain more details about the SSI program.

– Fred Rose, CEO, Acara Institute