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How to Use Community to Build Your Social Enterprise

3p Contributor | Tuesday May 18th, 2010 | 6 Comments

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.

Resources

* 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

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Olivia Khalili is the founder of CauseCapitalism.com. She works with companies to grow their businesses by implementing a social mission. Prior to Cause Capitalism, she built Intent.com’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.
*Image credit: Preparednesspro.com

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  • tkovach

    Excellent article, Olivia. We are trying to fill much of the same role for small businesses in Northeast Ohio here at COSE. We have been a central hub offering a number of services to our small business members for over 30 years, including health insurance, worker's compensation, HR & legal advice, networking events, etc.

    But we have also gotten into energy efficiency and sustainability in the past few years, and we are seeing the demand for these services grow significantly among our members. We are rolling out several new services to help our members reduce their energy consumption and mitigate their environmental impact. We are committed to providing timely, helpful service to small businesses throughout the region on these issues; even if we don't have all the answers, we will still point businesses to the right person or organization that can help them.

    So I appreciate you raising awareness on this and providing resources to businesses who are seeking guidance. Social entrepreneurship is a vital cog in the wheel of sustainability, and we all have our role to play in this game.

    - Tim Kovach
    Product Coordinator, Energy
    COSE
    http://www.cose.org/energy

    • http://twitter.com/OKL Olivia Khalili

      Tim, thanks for your comment. It's terrific to hear from a provider like you. Thanks for serving as a guide, resource and connector for sustainable businesses.

  • http://www.ventureneer.com Geri Stengel

    You are absolutely right: Much progress can be made when social entrepreneurs — all small business owners, really — network and help each other. After all their goals are complementary, not competitive: Make the world a better place.

    I thought you might enjoy a video on that concept, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yi4psQCoSs [Build Support to Build Your Enterprise].

  • http://twitter.com/OKL Olivia Khalili

    Geri,
    Thank you for your comment, which I'm just reading now. Coincidentally, I spent quite a bit of time this morning with your article for Business Ethics, “Taking Care of Bottom-Rung Employees is Good Business.” Thank you for sharing the key findings of the study and for your comment here. As you point to, there's much room for collaboration. There's a lot of work still to be done!

  • http://twitter.com/OKL Olivia Khalili

    Geri,
    Thank you for your comment, which I'm just reading now. Coincidentally, I spent quite a bit of time this morning with your article for Business Ethics, “Taking Care of Bottom-Rung Employees is Good Business.” Thank you for sharing the key findings of the study and for your comment here. As you point to, there's much room for collaboration. There's a lot of work still to be done!

  • http://twitter.com/OKL Olivia Khalili

    Tim, thanks for your comment. It's terrific to hear from a provider like you. Thanks for serving as a guide, resource and connector for sustainable businesses.

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