How #ImpactWomen imprint purpose and values on every facet of their businesses

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By Naomi Pyburn for Ogunte

Ethically Competitive

Today, the pressure is on for-profit sector companies to show that they care. Business news channels are flecked with examples of companies trying to gain a moral edge over competitors. They know that, in order to keep up, they need to appeal to the modern ethically-conscious consumer.

Studies show that millennials are changing the way business is done. It’s not just about undercutting each other on a price point, but about competing to show off the most compassionate values towards local and global communities, and the planet. The action behind these loud brand values is often not-so-bold, and often amounts to little bits of well-publicised good.

How does this affect social enterprise?

In social entreprise, doing good is not a marketing ploy or bragging fodder to increase your sales margin – it is the whole essence and heartbeat of the business. The ‘why’ is the most important part of any social business, without which the company would simply not have come into being.

Isabel Kelly, founder of Profit with Purpose, a business social purpose consultancy:

Organisations tend to get very focused on the tactics (the ‘what’) and the 'why’ gets lost along the way. It’s essential to have a clearly articulated purpose or vision for the social impact they want to create, together with a great plan for how to get there.’

We need to make sure that values and vision are the engine that drives everything we do. Especially in a world where big business is increasingly hiring corporate social responsibility officers and community relationship managers to position themselves as socially conscious players in the market.

But the bottom line is that they are driven by profit and sales – they manage people and resources for the personal gain of those at the top.

Social business instead seeks to galvanise communities and individuals around a shared vision of a better world. This must always come first.

Manjit K. Gill, founder of Binti, which fights to break shame around menstruation for all women and girls:

‘The most important factor that leads the work we do is to remember the end goal which is every girl deserves dignity, period. All decisions we make are based on the impact of that goal.

Fresh priorities: Leading through shared vision

Traditionally, the business world has been built around profit-making structures, everything is geared towards it. Affecting societal change is an immeasurably greater challenge.

This means we need to do better and reach higher. We need new models of work and leadership to enable social enterprises to achieve maximum impact.

The Impact Women we spoke to reported the importance of nurturing a shared vision in their leadership. They stressed that the venture was not about them, but about the shared journey of everyone involved: staff, volunteers, investors, beneficiaries, families, communities. No one is left out and that is powerful.

Urvashi Sahni, founder of SHEF, an education foundation to help underprivileged girls in India:

‘I used to lead from the front more, but now I have learned to walk alongside my team and learn from them, as well as teach them everything I know.

It is key to develop the vision along with the people you are leading, so that it’s a shared vision. I learned very early that telling people what to do doesn’t work.’

Kresse Wesling, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse, a luxury accessories brand that rescues materials destined for landfill:

Ensure that your story does not belong to you; it is your stakeholder’s story, your team’s story, your customer’s story, your community’s story.

Achenyo Idachaba, founder of MitiMeth, which transforms invasive aquatic weeds into artisanally woven baskets, homeware, and accessories:

‘I am a ‘lead by example’ kind of leader. I prefer ‘do as I do’ over ‘do as I say’!’

A picture of leadership begins to emerge that collapses traditional top-down hierarchies. Instead, a ‘good leader’ is someone who values collaboration, is a good listener and a source of inspiration. A reminder-in-chief of why the work matters.

The teams they build are based on trust and genuine care for one another’s well-being and ideas. The integrity of a leader is vital.

Jenny Costa, founder of Rubies in the Rubble, which turns rejected and discarded produce into delicious relishes and chutneys:

‘As the business grows, I want to be a leader who encourages and motivates; one who instills passion and excitement for the mission in our team.

Kresse Wesling, from Elvis & Kresse:

‘I need so many new skills but the ability to coordinate and empower others would be at the top.’

These leaders understand that their job is to raise up, inspire, and release the potential of others – this is how we start to see change.

Hiring the wholehearted

Chinwe Ohajuruka, founder of Comprehensive Design Services, a green housing architectural firm in Nigeria:

‘I am a leader that believes in constantly raising other leaders.’

Inspiring leaders focused on the vision require a team that is similarly-minded if they are to succeed.

Andrea Coleman, co-founder of Riders for Health, whose motorcycles enable healthcare services to reach patients in rural areas:

‘Get rid of people who don’t believe in and work towards the mission, sooner rather than later.’

This might sound brutal but when resources are stretched, a team that is pushing in disparate directions can fracture a business.

Team members are valued not only for their skills – these can be taught – but for their personal values and motivations. Does their character align with the company’s values? Can they be trusted to become part of the moral fibre of the company?

Sasha Kramer, founder of SOIL, which transforms human waste into nutrient-rich compost in Haiti, shares SOIL’s practice:

‘We consciously hire based on soft skills: a person’s attitude, commitment to the communities in which they work, and passion. We care about why they do the work. Hard skills can be taught. I think it’s much harder to teach someone to be a kind and respectful human being than to teach them Excel. Although I will say Excel can be really hard to teach as well!

‘This has probably slowed some of the work that we do, but it’s key to our success that we have a team of passionate, respectful people who are doing the work for the right reasons.’

Sasha’s hiring process here reflects the values of the company: taking the time to get things right is prized over quick-fixes. There is a recognition that development is a long and complex road, and that progress along it is best steady and sustainable, allowing new solutions to grow deep, lasting roots.

Hiring a wholehearted team is central to retaining the integrity of vision and purpose of a social business.

Impact stories pack a punch

While this post focuses on the importance of the ‘why’, the Impact Women we support frequently speak about the power of telling stories to engage stakeholders and motivate their teams. So let’s quickly skim over a very important ‘how’ note.

Karen Mattison, co-founder of Timewise, the UK’s first flexible jobs market:

‘For me, it’s all about telling inspiring stories that bring what you’re doing to life. In reality, people are interested in people. They want to hear about the struggles they’ve experienced and how they overcame them, as well as relating it back to themselves.’

Jemma Phibbs is the co-founder of School Space, which helps generate income for schools by renting out their facilities outside school hours:

‘[To connect the team to our vision, we] share stories of the impact we’re making. We make sure to relate sales, systems and processes to their impact on real people.’

If you call a story to mind to motivate you through a tedious admin task or a particularly long meeting, or if another gets you out of bed every day, then that story has power to move people to action. 

Takeaways

Social business is special. It exists to bring a solution to a problem and change the world for the better. Purpose must be at the heart of every decision and process.

Integrity is everything. In a world of high-budget marketing campaigns that follow ‘trending’ values, the authenticity and steadfastness of social business is invaluable. Stick to your guns, and by guns I mean your core values and vision.


There are many ways we can help you grow your social venture, check out our services here.

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