You don’t have to build houses in the developing world, launch a trendy e-commerce company with a one-for-one model, or subsist on Ramen noodles if you want to start a venture that will help others. There are a number of ways to be an effective social entrepreneur. But caring is the one big prerequisite.
That was the main takeaway from the social entrepreneurship panel discussion at Inc.’s 2015 Women’s Summit in New York City on Thursday. Speakers included Abrima Erwiah, co-founder of Studio One Eighty Nine; Elizabeth McKee Gore, the entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell; and Shiza Shahid, the co-founder of The Malala Fund. The three women care deeply about social entrepreneurship and they want to see ventures thrive. But they said, just as you would with any business, it's crucial to find something you're passionate about and then figure out how to give back. Here are three nuggets of advice they gave the audience:
1. Consider your experience and skills.
On this point, Erwiah offered her own startup experience as an example: “In the beginning, I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to do... I thought, 'you don’t want to hire me to go to Uganda to build a house,'” she says. Instead, she looked at what she could do. She considered her experiences up to that point--she had worked in communications at fashion house Bottega Veneta--and tried to apply them. Today, her company, which was co-founded by actress Rosario Dawson, makes designer fashions created by artisans in Ghana, where the company is based.
2. Start with what you know best.
Though, Shahid added that you don’t even need to go to the developing world to do good. “A lot of times people think social entrepreneurs are doing easy, bleeding-heart work. But it’s actually a lot harder,” she says. If you’re working in the developing world, for instance, you might be dealing with places that have economic and political turmoil, which can present innumerable challenges. So don’t discount your own backyard, says the entrepreneur who co-launched her education nonprofit with Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. The best idea? "Tackle issues you understand, and be aware of issues around you."
3. Incorporate social initiatives in whatever you do.
Gore, who formerly served as the entrepreneur-in-residence for the United Nations Foundation, boiled it down even further: “More than skillsets, I worry about time. You all have babies, Blackberries, boyfriends.” If you can, she adds, “carve out a little bit of time in your life to enhance the lives of others.” And while that might involve starting a social venture, it doesn’t necessarily have to.
You could, she suggests, do good works within your existing company and community. Already running a company or managing a team? Consider giving employees one day off a year to volunteer. “Not everyone needs to do a social enterprise,” adds Gore.