How to Use Community to Build Your Social Enterprise

By Olivia Khalili, founder, Cause Capitalism

One of the undeniable perks of being part of a sector that wants to change the world for the better is its collective commitment to change over self-advancement. Patagonia councils Walmart—a company 1,300 times its size—on greening its supply chain for free. Benetech founder Jim Fruchterman takes time away from inventing and implementing to write and speak to younger social entrepreneurs about how he launched and grew his nonprofit social enterprise.

Where social entrepreneurs miss out on resources available to traditional businesses (like better funding options, research or case studies), they are compensated for with an impassioned community of fellow entrepreneurs who are eager guides. A community of people with similar goals adds to your knowledge bank, provides feedback, offers shortcuts, referrals and product discounts, and pushes you forward.

When Jill Fink wanted to implement a retirement program for her employees of Mugshots Coffeehouse and Cafe, she went to her local Sustainable Business Network to learn what other businesses had done. She was able to replicate parts of their programs, use overlapping resources and get an IRA program up and running in less time and at less cost.

Desiree Vargas had a business plan that she put together one night aided by coffee and Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. But she needed feedback to bring it to the next phase. She went to the small business opportunity center at her city’s university where MBA candidates helped Desiree sharpen her ideas for GiveForward and recent law graduates helped her legally establish the company.

To get the kind of feedback and guidance you need, you first need to talk about your idea. Obvious, sure, but somewhere along the way we began holding our cards too close to our chest and thinking that it’s cool to be stealth. Outside of high-tech, stealth mode is overrated. Talk about your ideas to anyone who will listen. You’ll gain feedback, ideas, contacts and publicity for your company.

Jill and Desiree are just two examples of the myriad entrepreneurs who have used the resources and communities available to them to add to their knowledge, inform their decision making and provide support. It’s not altruism, it’s just a smart way to change the world.


* American Sustainable Business Council
* BALLE — Business Alliance for Local Living Economies
* B Labs — B Corporation
* Business for Social Responsibility
* Net Impact
* Social Enterprise Alliance
* Social Venture Network


Olivia Khalili is the founder of She works with companies to grow their businesses by implementing a social mission. Prior to Cause Capitalism, she built’s advertising and content networks. Before getting hooked in the start-up world, Olivia helped Los Angeles nonprofits built capacity, gain funding and strengthen their boards of directors. She worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on international trade advocacy before moving to the Marshall Islands for a year to work for the Ministry of Education and write about international development. Olivia graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in International Relations and French and is now living in Buenos Aires as a digital transplant and committed vegetarian.
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