Lessons from being a social entrepreneur
By ElsaMarie D’Silva | 07 November 2016
A little over 3 years ago, I decided to take the plunge and move to the development sector after a very successful 20 year career in aviation.
This move was triggered by many things — my quest for my purpose in life, stagnancy due to a glass ceiling, financial downturn of the airline I was working with, and exposure to new ideas in the form of a management course focused on CSR & Sustainability.
I zoned in on an issue that I was passionate about — safety and security of women and girls. I believed that if the environment does not facilitate and provide for safety, girls and women would be limited in their options to achieve their potential, choose their careers, fully participate in society thereby affecting their quality of life.
Using existing open sourced software, my friends and I launched a platform called “Safecity” to document sexual violence in public spaces, and make the issue visible through crowdsourced, anonymous stories. Over a period of time, I realised that providing only an “online” solution was incomplete and that we had to raise awareness about the issue and engage people to use the data to rally their communities around the issue and hold their institutional service providers, like the police and municipal authorities, accountable.
It has been a great learning experience since then, pushing a lot of boundaries and being open to opportunities. Some of my insights which might help new social entrepreneurs or would-be ones are:
Pick a cause that you are passionate about. The journey is pretty lonely and there will be ups and downs. Your passion will see you through.
Be clear about your vision and mission. Clarity helps you express yourself and carry others along with you. It also inspires others to join your cause.
It is a lonely journey so be mentally and emotionally prepared. Surround yourself with support. Most cities have entrepreneurial groups like Google Business Groups, Innovation centres and co-working spaces that host events around entrepreneurship. It helps to be able to discuss with like minded people and get their support.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have found many people around who may not have the courage to take up entrepreneurship but share your passion for the cause and will pitch in with support. Or there may be others who have been through the journey and are willing to support the new ones. Either way, there is always help available.
Pick your team, especially your co-founders, carefully. Skills, values and passion should complement each other. Make sure you have had clear conversations on roles, responsibilities, inputs and expectations. These are difficult conversations, but clarity at the beginning will save you plenty of pain down the road.
Have a financial base to support yourself. The first 2–3 years are difficult — implementing your idea and making it a reality, raising finances, proving your model, replicating success, growing, etc. Less than 1% are successful in raising funds early on. So you need to have your own nest egg which will support you.
Know that you are in for the long run. Sometimes it takes time to prove your model and establish success. Sometimes it takes longer to raise money. Give yourself time to get from A to B.
There are no free lunches. Everything comes at a cost. So keep that in mind.
Keep an open mind. Often you set out to do one thing and along the way you realise that you could be doing many things. If it does not deviate from your mission and vision, be open to trying new approaches and experiments.
Failure is part of your journey to success. Don’t let it intimidate you, learn from it and move on.
Celebrate your success and small wins. Truly it is these small wins that lead to your success.
Finally: Give, Give, Give. If you give without expectations, you will receive in abundance. Be humble and grateful and the Universe will make sure you achieve your goals. It is our duty to then help others coming along the path.