With social entrepreneurship a fairly underdeveloped sector in Croatia, it’s no surprise that whenever there is a social entrepreneur in town you soon hear about them.
That’s what happened recently with ImpactTrip, as they were in Split to look at expanding their operations. As a registered B Corp, they run a hostel in Portugal as well as offering voluntourism trips to a number of locations.
We caught up with one of their employees to find out more, their history, plans today and plan for the future.
Where did the idea for ImpacTrip come from?
In 2013 Rita, one of ImpacTrip founders traveled through Asia and returned to Portugal with the idea of creating a positive impact in the communities where travelers are. Rita is a “serial traveler” and her previous experiences around the world made her understand that it is necessary a shift in the way people travel, it is important to do it in a responsible and sustainable way. Later Diogo joined her, and both understood that the best way to achieve it would be through volunteering experiences in local non-profit projects, in a way that both, travelers and local organizations could benefit from it.
What are the main social and environmental goals of ImpacTrip?
Traveling in a responsible and sustainable way creating positive social and environmental impact locally is the main social/environmental goal of ImpacTrip. We can achieve it by supporting our social and environmental partners, giving them the human resources needed to achieve their goals and their mission, and stimulating new connections between causes and non-profits These partners are chosen according to their relevance and mission, so they need to be in accordance with at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
How are you hoping to improve your BCorp score in the future?
We are working hard on the quality of our project processes. We believe that improving our evaluation methods and working even closer to our social and environmental partner our impact will grow continuously. Moreover, by expanding our operational area, we will be able to reinvest in more projects, built a bigger team and it will allow us to improve our score.
What advice would you offer anyone thinking about going into the world of social enterprise?
Be, above all, idealist and resilient. It is very important to have clear in our mind our goals and what we want to achieve; then we can’t give up. There will be a lot of ups and downs, a lot of challenges, obstacles but the results give us enormous satisfaction and motivation to keep going and doing a positive impact everywhere and on everyone around us.
So if you’re thinking about travelling more conscientiously, why not check out what ImpacTrip have to offer, or at least take a leaf out of their book and think about the way you travel.
Most of my presentations start off in the same way.
“Do you know what a social enterprise is?”
Normally the answer is either a ‘no’ or a ‘kinda’. However as soon as I mention a few companies as examples, most of the audience has a better idea, whilst others are in shock. They ask how it’s possible that they know of the company, and in some cases shop their regularly, but never knew they were a social enterprise.
The answer is simple. Social enterprise is such a new term that it’s easier to market the specific things you do, rather than using an umbrella term which should hit the nail on the head.
A certified B-Corp which just gets better and better each year in terms of their social and environmental impact, this global brand sells high quality outdoor clothing and gear.
In 8 years, their B Corp Impact score has increased from an inspiring 107.3 to a whopping 151.5. Considering most businesses score around 51 points, shows you how much they do.
They are on a constant adventure to stop the negative impact their business may have on the environment, analysing the way they design, manufacture and transport goods, improving and solving the problems they face.
None of this would have been possible, if it weren’t for the original founders of the clothing brand, along with partners from similar clothing lines. Mostly adrenalin junkies with a passion for nature, wildlife and conservation, their personal mission meant that the company has always lived and breathed its mission.
The Tompkins couple bought up land in the Patagonia region over the last 30 years to ensure it didn’t fall foul of private exploitation. Then recently their NGO donated 1 million acres of this land back to the government as national park land.
Many people are surprised to hear that Ben & Jerry’s are a social enterprise, given that the company that actually owns them is the corporate beast Unilever.
However, when the Ben & Jerry’s story began, both Ben and Jerry created the company for financial, social and environmental purposes. They wanted the best conditions for their staff and only to have a relationship with farmers who raised and treated their dairy cows in a way that met their standards.
Ben & Jerry’s were bought out, chopped and changed for sure, however they exist as their own legal entity, and have always maintained their social mission to buy the best milk from the farmers that care. The proof is in the pudding — as they say — so check out their B Corp page where they scored 100 last time round.
One for our English readers more than anyone else, and even they might be a bit confused.
Surely you’ve heard of Transport for London (TfL), Metro in Leeds and MCT in Manchester?
HCT Group run a number of services up and down England, including bus services for these big players. Alongside this mainstream business, they run school buses, and transportation for people with special needs, be it physical or learning.
Being owned by a charity means that their profits are put back into even more community transportation projects, meaning the most isolated and most vulnerable can live independently.
Check out their routes here, who knows you may be using them already!
These are just a few examples of famous social enterprises who many people didn’t know the good they were doing. Within the sector, we often say at how bad we are at marketing ourselves. Therefore we’re always grateful when you, our customers, can share our cause and recommend us to those around you.
If you buy from a company that has a great social or environmental cause at its core, remember to tell everyone about them!
Through engaging, interactive and hands-on workshops
I was fortunate to have an amazing Business Studies teacher at secondary school. She inspired me to explore the world of business as I do today. She had the right approach with us, spoke with enthusiasm and energy and made her own clothes. She stood out from the rest for a number of other reasons too.
This was despite the fact that the majority of our work was paper or case study based.
We never set up a lemonade stand.
We never sold cookies door to door.
We only once had to come up with business ideas.
[Mine were a penbrella and bodybrella, I don’t think I need to elaborate further. Perhaps both more revealing of where I grew up rather than my business acumen at that age.]
Fast forward 18 years, and I find myself teaching teenagers very similar things albeit with the modern jargon, theories and tools. What I did decide though, was things would be more teenager proof, and to do this I shook things up.
Make it relevant
‘Sir, I’m never gonna use this in the future.’
We’ve all heard it, and some of you may have said it, but when you’re doing Pythagorean theorem for the 124th time you do start to wonder whether you’ll need to remember those equations in your adult life.
There has been a shift to show students how they will use things they learn in school later on, but let’s be honest, at 15 you’re only thinking about liking posts on Instagram, playing on your PlayStation, hanging out with friends etc. Your future is far from your mind.
So, in order to make entrepreneurship relevant, we come up with a product or service that they can actually offer or produce. A lot easier when working with vocational schools for sure, but normally you’ll find two or three students that have a skill or hobby which can be used. If there really isn’t anything then let the students come up with something new. Even if it’s not reasonable they’ll soon realise this and change.
Once the product is theirs, and they want it to succeed, everything they do is now relevant. They’re not being asked to think about a case study of another business, or fake numbers from a book, but instead really look into their own idea and see whether it’s feasible or not.
Normally we use exams as a way to get kids studying. As the exam period nears, stress increases and for the majority, so does the amount of studying. However, as we know, stress isn’t a great thing and we’d all prefer to avoid that dread. Luckily, accountability can come in many forms.
To do this with entrepreneurship, we set an initial date to launch their product or idea. In some cases, I must admit, this date has been delayed, but that accountability ensured buy-in from the students. Stress still plays a part, as they are mainly motivated by the air of worry that if they didn’t have something to show, they’d be stood there in front of hundreds of people expecting something. When they are engaged though, they want something to be proud of instead.
Further to that, and since I focus on social entrepreneurship, we stick to a promise that they decide how the profit is spent, as long as it is school related — a trip, a party, contributions to their graduation ball, it’s all in their hands. Most recently the class decided to plant a tree and have a class party.
The more work they put in, the higher chance of success, and therefore the potential to fund something amazing from their profits.
Feed them the way they like
Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Viber, YouTube. The list goes on. Messaging, images and videos. Read or record and send. Flick through. Double tap. Like, love, laugh, get angry or cry. Three seconds to make that decision. Next video, next photo.
Whether you agree with it or not, this is how teens access information these days. I asked a 15 year old which site she reads the news on. Her answer was Instagram, as it was quick and easy to understand. No wonder certain celebrities or politicians do so well.
How do you translate this into the classroom?
Fast decision-making, but with the knowledge that you can always improve or change them later on.
Short, snappy tasks with a time limit no longer than a YouTube video or pop song. That’s all the attention you’ll probably get. If you have a bigger task, break it down.
Individual, partner work or small teams, just like on SnapChat. Be clear which one you are after from the outset.
Let’s not forget, actually utilising the tools they use. Record them practising their pitch and put it on a private YouTube link for them to watch. Get them creating advertising campaigns including photos and videos using hashtags.
This is their domain, listen to their ideas.
I’m not a teacher
I’m in a lucky position. With most of the students I work with, I’m only there for half a day every two weeks, at most. The ‘teacher’ effect never has a chance to sink in. Similar to the differences between being the parent or the uncle/aunt, I benefit from being fairly novel and never the disciplinarian.
Since entrepreneurship is a process of trial and error, test and improve, you need to adopt a slightly different role anyway. There are steps we can follow, but there is no single equation that will lead to success. There are gut feelings and sometimes a sense of doing things for the sake of it. You can’t teach these things, and therefore your role here is as a mentor or guide.
Decision-making should be taken on by all, success or failure is a shared concept and you’re there to introduce themes or topics, keep things moving forward and provide structure. If you feel you’re propping the project up, then you’ve gone wrong somewhere. If you’re the only one running around before the launch day, you haven’t removed your teacher shackles.
So make sure you start as you mean to go on, get the students owning the project, making the decision and doing the work largely without your input.
I hope you’ve been extremely underwhelmed by the suggestions above. They are nothing novel, unique, and have been done numerous times in many places.
Ask yourself, are they being done at my local school, are the teachers doing similar things, are the students learning in an engaging way.
If the answer is no, then it’s time to try and change it, and demand a better, more hands-on, interesting and revitalised way of teaching.
I was recently training a group of current and potential social entrepreneurs about key stakeholders and how to ensure their buy-in at all stages from idea to execution. We discussed various methods, channels of communication, tools such as Social Return on Investment and how to share stories in a convincing and moving way.
I also got the participants to do a small quiz on how they make decisions. Overwhelmingly, the outcome was that most people supposedly used their head rather than their heart, however at the end of the workshop one lady came up to me and shared her current situation.
She had been running her own social enterprise for 9 years, with success, ensuring schools have access to clean water in Tanzania. However the idea came from the need for social change and better resources, with the financial side, and thus the business, following this. She had recognised herself in what I had said during the workshop.
“With a large numbers of social enterprise coming from the third sector, quite often people care so much about the social goal, they might, to some degree, neglect the financial sustainability.”
Her question was simple — how do you solve this problem?
Having been seen as both ‘the capitalist’ and ‘the socialist’ in different organisations, I offered up three solutions.
Get some sales training
One big problem is simply that owners or employees of social enterprises have never done any selling in their lives. They’re not equipped to sell, they don’t know the basic tricks of the trade and because of this lack of education and experience, they avoid selling as it’s out of their comfort zone.
If this sounds like you, then think about how you could improve your sales technique. Perhaps it’s about learning how to use persuasive language, storytelling or valuing what you have to offer, or a combination of these things and more. Put together a list of your strengths and weaknesses of your selling style, fill in the gaps through coaching and education and then get the experience through getting out there and doing it.
Set financial goals for yourself linked to your social outcomes
You may be a great salesperson but making a lot more money than you actually need to, might not be in your psyche. If you’re not motivated by money then sometimes it’s pointless setting sales targets. Each month you have a good idea of your outgoings, so you probably settle when you sell enough to cover those costs and nothing more.
Instead of having sales targets, have impact targets. Remember that every sale you make could lead to a great impact. For example, if you sell another water filter, that’s 10 more people with access to clean water or if you provide consultancy to one more business, that’s a further x amount to spend on an awareness raising campaign.
By swapping the sales target with an impact target, you’re appealing to your ‘heart’ more than your ‘head’.
Get someone else on board
They say fake it until you make it, but perhaps even when you swap the cold hard cash for warm fluffy (but still concrete!) outcomes, there’s still no faking it. Instead, you just want to work on the product, the story and the impact.
The last option for you is to think about getting a salesperson on board. It could be in the form of a business partner or an employee, but either way you’ll have to work closely with them to ensure the ethos of the company is present throughout.
This was one of the fears of the participant, that by getting a salesperson who is driven by the dollars, the social side may be undermined. This definitely doesn’t have to be the case, it’ll just be down to you to find balance, communication and results.
Need to work on your pitching skills, or to figure out what to charge for your product or service?
One of the oldest forms of social enterprise is called WISE — a work integration social enterprise. This is a social enterprise whose main priority is to provide employment to a specific group of people, often hard-to-employ or vulnerable.
Existing WISEs cover a wide spectrum of sectors, from clothes-making to factory-line work, and from landscaping companies to massage parlours. Just like social enterprise, you will find examples of WISE across the world, and perhaps in your own back yard.
WISEs used to be predominantly run adjacent to a non-profit organisation. This way they could provide tailor made work positions so their service users could find employment. It also meant that care could also be delivered at the same time, increasing the chances of successful employment and sustainability for both the company and individual.
Every WISE is different with its reasons for establishing itself for the sole person of employing a certain group of people.
Here are some examples as to why WISEs might be set up.
To provide a safe and stable route back to work
Imagine you’ve been out of work for over two years. You haven’t had a steady income, nor have you done a nine-to-five for a long time. Your skills might be a rusty, and maybe you’ve sort of forgotten how to socialise or behave in the workplace.
This description could be someone returning from maternity leave, someone off sick for a long period, someone leaving jail, or someone recovering from an addiction, to name a few examples. Such a wide range of individuals yet all with a similar common need — a safe place to work where they know the people and the pressure is off a little.
Many WISEs have been set up just for this — a stepping stone to get back into the working world. Perhaps through a contract job to give the person the confidence to find a job after. Or maybe that individual will always work in this safe and stable place. In some cases, certain WISEs crossover with support workers from their or another non-profit to provide a holistic service so that those starting work again are fully supported.
To offer flexible job positions
Not everyone has the ability to work full time, nor regular hours. This could be down to health, time availability, other responsibilities as well as many other factors.
With this in mind, some WISEs were set up that understood the needs of their workers, and could offer the flexible job position that meant those individuals could work to the best of their abilities or to a timetable that suited them.
It may sound like a nightmare to some business owners — a workforce of flexible work positions. However with a bit of ingenuity and innovation, and when your first priority isn’t profit, these WISEs were able to flourish to provide immense social impact. Don’t forget though — WISEs are generally still for profit organisations.
Fortunately, we have seen a shift within the private sector to be more flexible when it comes to working hours and contracts, meaning employment is a lot more accessible than it used to be. Therefore the need for this sort of WISE has decreased over the years.
To meet a need in the labour market
With sectors fluctuating, governments changing their employment priorities and different occupations moving in and out of fashion, there are often skilled people who find themselves out of demand.
Shipping communities, mining communities or where the garment industry was once rife, have all changed. These industries have, for the most part, vanished or moved abroad. Where they used to employ half a village or town, we find large groups of unemployed people.
Certain WISEs have set up to reemploy them in the same industry. You see this quite often happen with tailors, craftspeople and farmers. WISEs saw the opportunity to harness the local human capital and turn it into a sustainable business.
On top of this, we can think about all the skills needed in the aforementioned industries. Instead of creating the same sector, some WISEs take this certain group of people and reskill them. By using their basic knowledge from their previous profession yet applying it in a different way, they can create new sectors and new jobs for them.
If you work with individuals needing help to return to work , or if you’re thinking about starting a social enterprise to meet one of the needs above, then perhaps you should look at existing WISEs to see what models work for them. Reach out, do a bit of research, and make a good plan so your social enterprise will thrive.
If you start thinking about all the global issues out there, you’re likely to get pretty depressed. They’re so big that you sometimes feel unable to change anything, and even if you try to change things it’s on such a small scale that it’s hard to see the impact.
Instead, take a step back from that and look at your local issues — either in your country, city or street. Now things should be looking a bit more manageable and hopefully more rewarding when it comes to getting out what you put in.
Whichever problem you end up choosing to tackle, it’s how you break it down that makes sure you are able to change it and have a wider effect, or even, a ripple effect.
Activism in action
Recently in the British news we’ve heard a lot about Greta Thunberg, an activist who started by simply refusing to go to school every Friday. This was all in protest against how corporates and governments were not safeguarding her future due to their environmental policies. Fast forward six months, and over a million students worldwide have joined in with her protest.
Sure, she is the exception to the rule, but she broke things down and looked at how she could make in impact. Instead of writing letters to large companies or the EU, or her Prime Minister, or the local Mayor, she thought about where she could make a bigger impact — at her school and in her community. She turned a problem where so many people feel helpless into one where she feels empowered. Now she’s having those talks with decision-makers, and we’ll see whether she can have any impact at that level.
Tackling your own problems
Before thinking about potential social enterprise ideas, we need to think about a few problems happening locally, as many feed into global problems. I recently asked students at my former school to name a global, national and local problem.
Here is what they came up with:
Brexit social divide
growing knife crime
Three problems that international bodies, governments, and whole civil sectors are trying to solve on a daily basis. The only way we, as individuals, can really have an impact on these is to dig further. For this we can use the 5 why method, a technique originally used by Toyota to help with rooting out faults and errors in their production and manufacturing.
Problem: Growing knife crime Why 1: More young people carrying knives Why 2: To protect themselves Why 3: Scared of being mugged Why 4: Don’t be feel safe on the streets Why 5: Lack of police presence
Now the bigger problem has been broken down into five reasons, some of which are easier to try to resolve than others as us as individuals.
For example, in order to feel safer on the streets, there could be some self-defense and conflict management training. To reduce the number of those carrying knives, there could be knife amnesty days and awareness building around the dangers of carrying your own knife. To protest or counteract the lack of police presence, there could be petitions, research on hotspots, community action to create safe routes or walking groups.
There are many ways to answer the ‘whys’ for this question, and we can do this exercise a few times to come up with different reasons.
How about social enterprise
You could argue that most of the solutions above are things that should get government funding or be delivered by the civil sector, and therefore turning them into a business idea is a lot harder.
This said, with the three models of social enterprise, there are many ways in which the above solutions could be funded.
Self-defence or similar training could be run on a profit-basis, which could then fund free training for the target audience of this problem. Kapap Academy from Singapore do just this.
The knives handed in as part of the amnesty could be upcycled into other products or resold appropriately, and the profits could go towards further amnesties or awareness days. One charity doing something similar is Steel Warriors, turning these knives into outdoor gyms.
Think about the problems that you and your community facing. Break them down individually by asking five whys, and see what solutions you can put to those smaller causes. Once you have some ideas, you can start thinking about completing your business model canvas — could it make money from trading on the market? Then you’re onto something social enterprise. If not, then you still might have a good idea for a nonprofit or charity.
Having previously looked at the external and integrated models, we move to the third model of social enterprise — the embedded model.
This model rarely exists unless the organisation was born as a social enterprise, as advanced planning and strategical thinking is required.
Put simply — it’s when the product or service you are offering, directly solves one of the social or environmental needs you set out to solve. Each unit or hour that you sell, has a direct positive impact which goes towards achieving your mission and vision.
It goes a lot further than the integrated model with this direct approach, as everything done is intentionally. A product design phase may have taken place to adapt or improve an existing product or service on the market to make it social enterprise appropriate.
Example 1 — Sanergy
One of my favourite social enterprises to talk about, Sanergy not only provided a simple solution to a growing problem, they went further and ensured there was a circular economy within what they do.
First off, they build what are effectively toilets in a portable style for slums and communities without toilets. These are franchised out to local entrepreneurs that can then make money in maintaining and offering them. Straight away, the toilet provides an income for an individual, whilst providing everyone else a safer, cleaner place to do their business.
Next up, the waste is collected from all of the Sanergy toilets. This means there isn’t illegal dumping or the need to build complex infrastructure that requires a large amount of time and funds, and can lead to the upheaval of communities. Once again, this provides further jobs.
Finally, with that waste, they treat it and turn it into further products such as fertilizer that local farmers can then use instead of potentially harmful chemicals.
It goes without saying, the amount of impact Sanergy must have on the community is mind-blowing, all through leasing of toilets!
Example 2 — Grameen Bank
Grameen Bank was founded by perhaps the most well-known social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus. They started off by offering microloans to people needing money to start or expand their business.
A fairly common service in developing countries right? Grameen Bank went many steps further to ensure it had an embedded business model.
The loans mainly target female entrepreneurs across Bangladesh, a country where in some parts women are shunned when it comes to owning or running a businesses.
Furthermore, it is a co-operative, and anyone borrowing money from GB is a member, meaning trust and participation is needed in order to successfully apply for a loan.
Finally, the interest charged on the loan is reinvested in other individuals applying for a loan. It is in this way that the simple offering of a loan, has turned into a sustainable social business where strategical decisions are influenced by those borrowing. The funds available to others across Bangladesh has grown exponentially, since there isn’t a group of stakeholders who are paying themselves bonuses.
Just like with Sanergy, the value comes directly from the ‘product’ itself — promoting equality, encouraging entrepreneurship, independence, financial literacy and economic growth.
This is social enterprise at its purest, where a problem was identified and a solution directly developed to solve the problem. Through the problem solving process, stakeholders, sustainability and impact were taken into consideration to produce a cycle that keeps giving.
Perhaps you have a social or environmental problem that you think you could solve? We would love to help you make it viable and sustainable.
In a previous blog post we looked at the different types of social enterprise model, and this time we’re delving deeper into the integrated model.
The integrated model often sees a social enterprise’s income generating activity partly fund some of the social activities within the social enterprise. At the same time the business side of things will also directly contribute to other forms of social good. However the product or service they offer is unlikely to solve some sort social or environmental need.
One common integrated model is where the social enterprise sells one product, but charges a premium to one customer which ultimately subsidises the other.
This great example of a social enterprise in India identified the problem in rural villages where it was very hard for locals to access adequate eye care services. There was no provision for them locally, the nearest one could be hundreds of miles away and then there was the problem with affordability.
Aravind solved this by offering subsidised outreach services for the villagers, whilst charging those who could afford it an appropriate amount that would subsidise the outreach service. They went that bit further too by making sure the doctors working with clients saw both types, those in the towns and in the village, to avoid creating a two-tier service.
The model has enabled them to expand all over India, and further afield as they work with various African countries in establishing something similar there.
Social Bite are a pretty impressive outfit, running a variety of different projects that aim to eradicate homelessness in Scotland. As part of the charity, they run Vesta, formerly known as Home, a restaurant that offers delicious food and drinks whilst doing a whole lot of other good.
Customers are encouraged to pay-forward meals for the homeless, and this is where the integrated model comes into play. Running as a restaurant it serves customers day and night, and then when people opt to, they then feed their service users using the extra money.
On top of this, they also use the restaurant as a great way to provide training and employment to homeless individuals looking for a return to work. Due to the nature of the restaurant, and the social ethos behind it, getting back into a 9 to 5 is a lot easier when you know the management, colleague and customers have got your back and want you to succeed.
The integrated model absorbs your social or environmental goals into your social enterprise. Meanwhile, the model enables you to take some mainstream ideas and convert them appropriately, since unlike the embedded model, the service or product doesn’t have to directly solve the problem.
The difference between integrated and embedded models can sometimes be a bit blurry, especially as you may have to adapt your operations to keep competitive. Ultimately the point of understanding your model is to be able to explain it to stakeholders and demonstrate the impact you are having because of it.
In a previous blog post we looked at the different types of social enterprise model, and this time we’re going to go one step further by discussing some examples of the external model.
The external model is very interesting because it actually means any business can jump straight into being a social enterprise without necessary having any social or environmental goals linked directly to their product or service.
This does not mean however that the company can have a negative effect on either. They should still meet all the other social enterprise requirements when it comes to governance, transparency, stakeholder involvement and employee satisfaction.
Moreover it usually means that while they are busy selling and maximising their profit, there will be another organisation focused on solving a need. The need doesn’t necessary have to be linked with the social enterprises main operation either, which has enabled the funding of hard-to-fund groups through this model.
Example 1 — Ginerosity
One example of the external model is Ginerosity, a gin distillery social enterprise based in Edinburgh, Scotland. They ultimately produce and sell delicious gin all over the world. What kind of social or environmental goals do you think ginmakers would have? Protect the juniper maybe, or create more gin-tasting tours?
Nothing like that. They partner with other social enterprises or nonprofits to finance and provide vulnerable young people the change to access education, training or jobs. The profit generated from the gin goes directly to this cause, which is why we call it an external model.
Example 2 — Thankyou
Another example is Thankyou, a social enterprise based in Australia who have now extended their operations to New Zealand too. This impressive social enterprise spends 100% of their profit on solving global issues and partners with the likes of Unicef and Oxfam.
However their products don’t directly target those causes like other social enterprises do, but instead there is an external connection between them. For example, they sell their own bottled water, from which the profits go towards water projects around the world. They sell their own line of nappies, the profits of which go to births and baby health all over the world.
These two examples of many external model social enterprises, go to show how no matter what you sell or offer, there is a way to be a social enterprise and have an amazing impact of society all over the world. Some people may argue that it would be hypocritical for certain sectors to operate in such a way and then claim to be having a positive impact.
We, on the other hand, believe that external models can provide a way for many companies to move into social enterprise, before aligning the rest of the operations accordingly.
If you work for a non-profit, social enterprise or do anything that aims to have a positive social or environmental effect, then you might have thought about your theory of change.
Your theory of change should show how what you do, has an impact more far reaching than just on your customers and users. It should also show how you aim to create impact for longer than just the instance they buy your product or use your service.
It’s a strategic piece of work that can set down the foundations for your business, test your assumptions and ensure you have indicators to show the world how great you are. So let’s delve a little deeper into what’s involved.
When you started your organisation or project, you would have seen a problem you were hoping to solve. This provides your context that your theory of change relates to.
On top of this, you would have most likely stated your mission and vision. Ultimately the goals you, as an individual or group of individuals, are hoping to solve. Think of those goals again and translate them into something that we could think about measuring.
Goals / Context
For example, instead of an all reaching and broad‘Improve the lives of those affected by addiction’, we could look more specifically at ‘Decrease deaths linked to overdose’, ‘Improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of drug and alcohol users’ and ‘Improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of carers of drug and alcohol users’.
Now we know where we’re heading, we can start looking at what we’re doing by jotting down what we activities we carry out to reach our goals. These are known as our inputs.
In this example they could be things such as ‘Provide education about drug and alcohol at schools’, ‘run weekly meetings for addicts’ or ‘provide volunteer or job opportunities at the social enterprise.
These inputs lead directly to an output, and they will sound very similar.
For each educational course in a school, 30 students will receive 4 hours of information about drugs and alcohol.
For every weekly meeting, 15 individuals with an addiction will attend.
Of the volunteer/job opportunities, 3 individuals will take up this offer.
So far, so good?
In fact many grants or contracts these days will only ask you to report this back to them with similar information, however they have become very output driven, without really thinking about the short, medium or long term impact of what they are funding. We know that it’s not just numbers that matter, but also what you’re offering and the quality of the service or product.
This is why we now think about the outcomes, some of which are easy to measure and some of which are challenging to. Furthermore, at this stage we need to think short, medium and long term in relation to what you’re doing. If you run a business, perhaps your long term could be from 10 years to a whole generation. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking at a year long pilot, then your long term could be between 3 and 5 years.
I’ll leave that up to you, and for now I’m going to focus on the outcomes for those taking up our volunteer/job opportunities, since this could be more relevant to those reading.
Short term — better and more structured routine, less likely to commit minor offences, unlikely to drink/use during the working day Medium term — improved social skills, improved self-confidence, work ready, open to coming off unemployment benefits, new and better friendships outside of old ‘circles’ Long term — employed elsewhere, stronger personal relationships outside of old circle, no offending, not drinking/using or in control of drug/alcohol use
You can now see that we have completed the bulk of our theory of change. We have looked at what we are going to do, how we are going to do it, and the effect over time we hope it to have on its users. One thing still remains, and that is our assumptions.
In everything we do, we assume that people will react a certain way, we predict that doing x will lead to y, and that we will achieve our goals. In both the business world and social sector, this doesn’t always happen, which is why we need to analyse our assumptions to make sure we don’t trip up.
We can look at our assumptions between each stage, and when we ask ourselves these questions, we can then strengthen what we are offering.
Have you ever heard of the NGO that gave out laptops to a village in Sub Sahara Africa, only to later find they were being used as paperweights? They’d made a lot of wrong assumptions — that the locals needed laptops, knew how to use them and had the power to run them, and ultimately didn’t reach their goal. Let’s not make the same mistake!
Inputs to Outputs
Users want to volunteer/work
Users want that sort of volunteer role/job position
Users will turn up as agreed to volunteer/work
Outputs to Outcomes
Users at a stage in recovery where reduction of using is possible
Users stick to the schedule given
Users will be physically/psychologically able to volunteer/work full time
Outcomes to Goal
Job secured leads to improve physical and psychological wellbeing
Job secured doesn’t lead to a return to old habits
In this example, I have limited the assumptions for each stage, however it is important to list as many as possible and answer them prior to starting your project or organisation. The ones that are easier to answer can be removed when you feel you have adequately answered or countered it.
Putting together your theory of change should always be done with a wide range of stakeholders, to help combat these assumptions and really define what will work.
When I was part of setting up the social enterprise we used service user involvement to define how it would work that would make it more attractive to potential volunteers and employees. We involved them in the visual identity, branding, product list, product selection, setting of hours, role allocation and so much more.
They felt ownership from the beginning, which ensured many of our assumptions were solved. We offered flexible shifts, a relaxed work ethic, smart uniforms, suitable perks and everyone was trained to be a barista. They grew with confidence, made new friends, solved old problems and broke their own prejudices as well as fought stigma against addiction.
One only lasted a few months, he shared his views that it wasn’t right for him, not hands on enough and he didn’t want to be in that location. Others moved on to other jobs, and one or two still work their part time today.
The theory of change helped us take an idea, and turn it into reality to meet our goals. It’s not a complex thing to do, it doesn’t take weeks to do, and will really help you connect to your cause.
Give it a go and feel free to share what you’ve done or let us know if you’d like some help putting it together – firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally posted at https://medium.com/@michaelfreersplit/applying-the-theory-of-change-e1f0f570ec12