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10 Commandments of Social Enterprise

Adapted from the excellent book The Art of Social Enterprise: Business as if People Mattered by Carl Frankel & Allen Bromberger, the following 10 commandments are indisputable principles for beating the odds and excelling at social enterprise. While they are broad, and can be applied to all entrepreneurs, they are specifically focused on social entrepreneurs and the challenges they face. They aren’t general guidelines to hazily consider embracing. In the words of Frankel and Bromberger, “they are commandments you ignore at your peril.”

1. Thou Shalt Respect Money

Don’t treat cash flow as an afterthought and never take money for granted. Your social mission is of the utmost importance but don’t assume or expect that the required funding will eventuate. On other hand, don’t be wasteful if you’re cashed up. Today’s tiny fraction can be tomorrow’s lifeline. When you’re running a social enterprise, never be casual about money. The bottom line is… the bottom line.

2. Thou Shalt Be Intensely Strategic

Be motivated by your social mission, integrate it into your business model, but make sure you aren’t blinded by it. In other words, don’t let the emotion of running a social enterprise be a substitute for a carefully thought-out and critiqued strategy. Be patient. Don’t overreach. And keep focused.

3. Thou Shalt Insist on Quality

Competition is intense and standards are now higher than ever before. When things are designed poorly or lack quality, people notice and it can quickly lead to problems. No matter how laudable and ethical your social mission, if your services or products (or people!) are shoddy you won’t stand much of a chance. By all means, operate lean. Just don’t cut corners. “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution” [William A. Foster].

4. Thou Shalt KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Operating a social enterprise can be very complex as you try to combine the innovation acumen of a business with the attitude of a social service provider. Tough stuff. As a result, the more multifaceted and intricate an enterprise, the more likely it is that things can go wrong. Unnecessary complexity isn’t good for your stress or productivity and may also make it harder to raise capital and get stakeholder buy-in. To increase your likelihood of success, get rid of complexity by streamlining your business model and processes.

5. Thou Shalt Be Willing to Compromise on Everything but Thy Integrity

Integrity means different things, to different people, in different situations. In short, it is about doing what you need to do in order to make your social enterprise a success, and knowing when to say no. Recognising what to do in a given circumstance involves being sensible, considered, and intuitive. Be pragmatic. Know your social mission boundaries. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And listen to your gut.

6. Honour Thyself

Recognise and accept that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and that nobody does anything great without help. If you want to succeed at social enterprise, leverage your strengths and recognise your weaknesses. Identify what skills come most naturally to you as well as those things you dislike and sidestep.

7. Thou Shalt Get Support

A solid understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses will put you in a good position to surround yourself with people who can fill in those gaps and set your enterprise up for success. This doesn’t only mean your immediate team – volunteers, employees, and mentors. It also means leveraging your networks by identifying and participating in your broader community. Networking isn’t always easy but stepping out of your comfort zone will open up opportunities in unexpected ways, both personally and professionally.

8. Thou Shalt Cultivate a Healthy Relationship with Thy (Ad)Venture

Like all great adventures, social enterprise will change you. When the going gets tough (and it inevitably does) and you can smell burnout approaching (and you inevitably will), don’t forget why you decided to start a social enterprise in the first place. Treat your social enterprise like you would any healthy relationship. Focus on cultivating inspiration, empowering your employees, and tackling problems head on.

9. Thou Shalt Take Care of Thyself

Starting or operating a social enterprise can be incredibly exciting. At the same time, like any business, it’s rarely a smooth ride and never problem-free. Without good self-discipline when it comes to your most precious asset – your mental and physical health – you’ll invariably start feeling exhausted, creatively drained, stressed and inefficient. Sacrificing your personal health for that of your enterprise is a fantastic formula for failure. Give it your all but don’t overdo it.

10. Thou Shalt Keep Dancing on the High Wire

Foster your capacity to balance and honour opposites. Social enterprise is unpredictable, and things don’t always go as intended. Great social entrepreneurs have the ability to be flexible, adapt to fluctuating circumstances and find ways for the enterprise to achieve its goals. Highly effective social entrepreneurs are able to manage polarities. Common polarities faced by social entrepreneurs include balancing: strategy and passion; big dreams and the daily grind; staying informed and micromanaging, perfection and productivity.

What are the commandments of social enterprise that are most influential for you?

Social Change Central
Social Change Central

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