Christmas Thinking Booster for Social Enterprise Supporters

As the year draws to an end, we’d like to share a sample of mistakes seen this year in the business support field, and we share some practical tips from women social entrepreneurs themselves that you can use to refine and boost your social business support services.

Mistake 1: Pushing entrepreneurs to go big straight away.

Thinking and going big are two different routes. Building solid traction and collecting evidence along the way are essential first steps.

Zeina Saab, founder of the Nawaya Network in Lebanon, unlocks young people’s hidden potential and turns them into changemakers. She said: “I wish I had known to start really small rather than try to do too many things at once. I recall setting up Nawaya back in 2011 and 2012, and having so many exciting ideas, and trying to do them all. For example, our online platform was supposed to be this really easy-to-use tool to connect youth to resources, but there were so many options on the site that it was confusing to users and difficult for our very small team to manage, so we never really got to use the platform in the way we had envisioned.

if I could go back and do it again, I would start really, really small, focus on our core mission, get success stories, and build off of that.”

Connect to Zeina here

Mistake 2: You are an eternal bachelor

As an independent consultant, you are free to deliver your signature curriculum programme, yet are you reaching the right people? Have you got the impact you claim you have on your brochure? 

If not, how can you change this?

The key is to not continue on your own. However partnering is not as straight forward as it seems. Like in marriage, there needs to be affinity, a courting and dating period, and eventually, a solid contracting: choose your partnerships carefully.
For support providers as much as for entrepreneurs, there needs to be complimentarity, equality, accountability… and learning.

Karen J Lynch (CEO Belu Water) explains what made Belu connect and collaborate with The Cobra Foundation:

“The Cobra Foundation partnership has allowed us to have knowledge, experience, contacts and skills that Belu doesn’t have in that sector, and couldn’t have acquired cost effectively. We are open to all partnerships that increase our capability and/or reach.”

Partnering with a like minded organisation works if you have a clear sense of what makes you stand out, the evidence and added value you bring to the mix, the assets you are looking for, and the eagerness to share and educate others about your joint expertise.

Connect to Karen here

Mistake 3: You are “helping” entrepreneurs without contributing to changing the ecosystem.

Your knowledge is precious, it should contribute to educate your peers and influence your system.

What do you know about women social entrepreneurs, that others don’t? How can you contribute to bring a gender lens to the sector, and make changes easy (or more palatable) for everyone?How recent/old is your knowledge of your ecosystem?

Flavia Amadeu, who designs accessories of organic rubber from the Amazon, Brazil, explains how she started in the social business sector and her take on “helping”: “My mother was always involved in volunteer work and it became part of my education. This made me to interact with people of all ages living distinct and difficult realities. However, there was something that made me feel uneasy at times. It was a paternalist idea of ‘helping’ without really changing anything, which is very common in Brazil. I began then to think of how I could contribute to promote positive changes and I how design could be a means for that.”

Connect to Flavia here.

Mistake 4: You help entrepreneurs to form a strong team and you run away.

There is something precious in a budding entrepreneur’s lack of experience that business supporters should harness more. Building a robust team is essential but it is not the end itself.

The core work starts with questioning and building decision-making skills.

When Olivia Knight from, shared with us the key obstacles she faced when growing her business, one of the top 3 issues was: Not having a tech background. Look at what it brought up:

“I was worried about starting a tech business. But two things have helped me to get beyond the problem. Firstly I’ve ensured that I have a team around me who are super tech, whose experience I respect and whose decisions I trust. And secondly I’ve recognized the value that my naivety also brings. It’s important to able to ask those simple, human questions of the build team that tech people might take for granted.

At Ogunte, we encourage the social business advisors we support to adopt an open innovation attitude when supporting their clients.
We encourage them to use naive questions: “What if”, “Why is that”, “Where do you do x,y,z”?; “If you could bring your [other sector’s] expertise in this specific context, how would you get on with the issue?”, “What are you able to do, despite all your current constraints?”. Ask these questions back until your clients come up with a list of options, and answers from a variety of sources, and ultimately, clarity.

Come back the following year and ask how things went.

Mistake 5: You haven’t attended your own workshop

Women social entrepreneurs are ok to go through vocational or technical training themselves but they dread courses that do not offer inspiration or lack innovative approaches. The death by PowerPoint is still pandemic.

They have already googled and filled in the Social Business Canvas, yet for some of them, nothing substantial has come out of it.

Experiment, take people on a future thinking journey, invest in rapid prototyping, reduce the testing costs, let them hack their own business. Ask them what would happen if they resigned…

Mistake 6: You still provide off-the-shelf templates

The British Council State of Social Enterprise Study in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, shows that lack of technical skills is seen as the biggest barrier to growth, followed by access to finance.
In Bangladesh, the highest proportion of Social Enterprises work in the education and seek to promote education and literacy as key objectives even if they operate across other sectors.  
In Ghana, female social enterprise leaders are more likely to focus on health objectives, to support beneficiaries int heir local communities, and to hire female staff.
It seems that taking the time to tailor your niche offering, to back it up with strong evidence, and to add a robust gender lens and a culturally sensitive approach into the mix, are essential steps, which will help you provide a much better service.

That will also require study time. Have you factored that in?

Early 2017, we will be resuming our support activities for social business advisors, consultants, and coaches, with a very interactive programme. Stay tuned and drop us a tweet at @ogunte should you want to know more.

Have a peaceful and loving Christmas!

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