In the age of the one-for-one model, savvy marketing campaigns and the power of digital, there’s something appealing about creating the next trendy social enterprise. But whether we’ve realized it or not, many of us have begun to prioritize the brand over the solution itself and are in many cases, repeating what has been done before.
Social entrepreneurs want to make a difference, but complex problems that face our communities around the globe are in need of more than band aid solutions: they need real solutions, oftentimes complex, to combat the most pressing issues of today.
It’s time to ask: Are we solving the right problems?
In both of my companies, Tinua and More Than An Addict, I’ve gone after the wrong strategy in the name of the trendy solution or the way I thought the companies should work. In both cases, it required scaling back and re-examining the data and the market to truly conclude the way problems needed to be solved. I learned critical advice that has helped me as a social entrepreneur ever since: It doesn’t have to be trendy, it just needs to work.
Whether you’re behind the scenes building infrastructure or on the frontlines building the brand, remember: solve problems. Every time you build a brand for the sake of fame, recognition or simply due to a lack of knowledge, you create more work for you and your team.
Here are a few crucial questions to ask as you consider launching a social enterprise or nonprofit:
- Am I solving the right problem?
As a product-minded entrepreneur, this question has come up often. But in the social impact space, it’s important to be thoughtful about this question. Are you truly solving the right problem, or a symptom of the problem? Competition is not a bad thing, but for social impact organizations, look for collaboration and focus on your core competencies. At the end of the day, even if your company is three levels removed from the frontlines, so long as you’re making an impact and contributing to the right solution, you are doing the right thing.
- What solutions exist today and how are they working?
Don’t start a nonprofit or social enterprise blindly. Talk to people, research the issue and look at what solutions already exist. Analyze common pitfalls of fellow social entrepreneurs – is there a better solution you can offer? Are there capacity issues for existing models? Do your research and talk to others – it’s just as critical in social impact as it is in tech: learn the landscape, analyze the data and solve problems accordingly.
- What can I learn from other industries?
In the age of technology and innovation, most things have been done already. But in the nonprofit sector, things are just starting to change. The nonprofit model has been largely accepted, aside from the recent shift toward social enterprise. In the midst of this shift, look to other industries for ideas and solutions. What can you learn from tech or healthcare? Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done now – and it surely doesn’t mean it’s the wrong solution. Try things, innovate and experiment.
Embarking into the world of social impact is exhilarating and exciting. But as exciting as it is to embark on the journey of making a difference, it’s even better to actually make a difference. Ask the really tough questions ahead of time, and you’ll save yourself from a world of barriers and roadblocks down the road. For the sake of your company and your cause, it’s worth the work up front to make sure you’re doing the right thing and solving the problem with the correct solution.