Social Innovation

6 steps to becoming a successful social entrepreneur

Refugee schoolchildren receive their new books on the first day of the new school year at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, September 1, 2016.  REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed - S1AETYUGDXAA

Find what lights you up, whether it's sharing a love of reading or spreading social justice Image: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed - S1AETYUGDXAA

Rebecca Weicht
Rana Dajani
Founder, We Love Reading, Jordan & Hashemite University, Jordan, and President of the Society for Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab world
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Social Innovation

We believe in the power of social entrepreneurship to decrease unemployment, increase female participation across fields, and bring education. We want to share what we have learnt with you to become a successful social entrepreneur. Where to start and how to get to scaling your solutions to drive impact. The steps that we know will lead to success are:

1. Find your passion

Social entrepreneurs believe and trust that a first step can lead to change. Ventures are started because people believe in something: making a change and having an impact, helping others, building something that was missing, conducting business in a manner they believe in. Impactful social entrepreneurs and change makers are those with a story to tell - and did you notice, that story always starts with a why?

To find your passion, ask yourself:

What about the status quo are you not satisfied with?

What bothers you?

What is important to you?

What lights you up more than anything else?

What values guide you?

Our first lesson: find your passion. Everything else derives from that. For example, Rana Dajani Ph.D., a Harvard Radcliffe fellow, Eisenhower fellow, twice Fulbright alumna, and Associate Professor and former Director of the center of studies at Hashemite University, Jordan, created the ‘We Love Reading’ (WLR) programme in 2006 because she realised that children do not read for fun.

Rana believes that reading for fun is fundamental for a child to discover their inner potential and the world around them. She worked out the core reason why children do not read for fun and developed a solution, We Love Reading. WLR uses a grassroots community based model to foster the love of reading among children. The programme, which has enabled the creation of a virtual community through a mobile application, has spread to 41 countries and become a social movement. In Jordan alone, the project has trained 3,000 women and opened 2,000 libraries, benefitting more than 50,000 children. WLR is has been rigorously studied in collaboration with Yale, Chicago and Brown University and has won multiple awards.

Rebecca co-founded Brussels-based non-profit Bantani Education, which develops and supports creative and entrepreneurial learning policy and practice, because she strongly believes in social justice and the power of education to level the playing field and provide opportunities for all. Her non-profit works on policy initiatives with governments and international organisations including the European Commission to mainstream entrepreneurial learning in education.

2. Build a team culture

We know that culture beats strategy hands down. Any movement starts with your first follower. Your first follower will show everyone else how to follow; your first follower will be in their own way a leader. Leadership is over-glorified, it is the first follower that turns the lone nut into a leader. Embrace your first follower as an equal. Let them know that now it’s not about them anymore, but about you as a team.

When you build your team, give them room to breathe. Let them take responsibilities and trust them because you are aligned to the same vision.Your team will feel empowered and help you fulfil your mission. Your role is to set the structure to help your team culture thrive; to empower your team, to empower ideas, to show drive and inspire, to show that mission comes first.

3. Get started

Think about what you can do now - today. Don’t worry about the big picture. Think small, then dream big. Your mentality should be about changing one person at a time. To find a solution for that small problem, explore what is available in the world to learn rather than reinventing the wheel. Tailor whatever you find to fit your culture. Develop, refine and reiterate the model or solution until you get the simplest most empirical formula.

In practice:

Do your research to understand the root cause of the problem. Ask people what they think, make your own observations.

Develop a simple solution that stems from the people themselves. Do more research. Ask your community how they would solve the problem. Take this information and develop a solution using human-centred design. Test your solution in the local context.

Apply your solution to yourself and the people who helped you design it. Collect feedback and reflections. Ask yourself how you can make it better, more efficient. Keep doing this until you feel you have reached a level of satisfaction of success.

Make sure you document everything you do for future reference.

4. Keep at it (how to stay motivated and persevere in difficult times)

Being entrepreneurial is hard work. You know that and we know that. Being able to stay motivated and belief in yourself, your idea and the people around you, is key. Entrepreneurs know the statistics of start-up failure but are optimists and tend to believe in their own chances of success. To sustain this confidence, learn where your motivation comes from, reflect on failures and successes to draw conclusions - and have them handy when you need a pick-me-up! Surround yourself with people that belief in yourself and can help you to pick you up when motivation runs low. Reflect with those who have walked the walk before you - mentors, those who inspire you, and want you to take action.

Research shows that entrepreneurs interpret setbacks differently by phrasing them as only temporary. Individuals with a predisposition for optimism remain calmer and more optimistic in high-stress conditions, which leads to persistence. Learn from mistakes. Prepare for failure. A brain that doesn’t expect good results lacks a signal telling it ‘take notice — wrong answer’: these brains will fail to learn from their mistakes and are less likely to improve over time. Build social networks. Social networks increase optimism because greater social resources heighten positive expectations.

Lastly, optimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimists perceive their partners as providing more support, which leads them to invest more effort in maintaining the relationship. Increased effort then leads to more satisfaction with the relationship for both partners.

5. Fund your venture and grow organically

Working with grassroots organisers means everyone is invested and ready to chip in. We know that the key is to think small and local. Focus your social enterprise on what’s easy and doable, because if you can’t make it work at this level, it won’t work at the larger level.

Once you know that your solution works:

Brainstorm with your community how to sustain your solution. This creates ownership and agency. Involve your community to first identify your objective and then what is needed to reach that objective.

Have the people who came up with the strategy test it to see if it works and what can be learned from this particular approach.

Growth and funding take very strange forms. Look for signs of growth in unexpected places and remember growth takes time. Change takes time if it is real. Be patient and persistent and most importantly, you have to believe in your solution. You have to believe that your solution is the best. At the same time you must be open to critique and suggestions.

6. Scale up

Scaling will happen naturally, if you have built your social enterprise right from the start. The idea is to find solutions that are built on shared values among human beings. Those shared values will be the catalyst for scaling to become a social movement of change.

We want to encourage you to start with your project and be part of the solution to our problems today and tomorrow. We want to encourage you not to belittle any good deed. When a butterfly flutters its wings in China, a hurricane happens in the Atlantic. That is the power of social entrepreneurship.

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