It’s vitally important to realize that while some social ventures can be looked at as a business that happens to have a special type of mission and product or service, others are not market-driven, market-based, or market-financed. In these ventures, traditional business & economic metrics may be of only secondary importance—or even irrelevant—and entrepreneurs need to develop a richer and more comprehensive set of skills.
It may be obvious that a social entrepreneur can master general business skills but still fail if he or she fails to analyze and understand the mission and goals in terms of true sustainability. What may not be quite so obvious is that even entrepreneurs who have a very good understanding of the specific problem they are trying to solve may still need considerable support to make sure that any proposed solution is truly sustainable.
A successful, sustainable social venture needs to:
- Empower people and foster self-reliance instead of using a ‘do-gooder’ approach that can contribute to dependency
- Avoid narrow-horizon thinking that may solve one problem while creating others in domains never considered by the entrepreneur
- Develop solutions that help people respond to changing conditions and developing awareness
- Be grounded in the interdependence of different aspects of sustainability, the multiple connections among environmental protection, ecology, public health, social justice, and economic stability
- Be aware of the growing international movement to respect the rights of nature / rights of mother earth
Of course social entrepreneurs need to understand such concepts as ecology, global warming, and the rights of nature, but the ability to think in terms of lifecycle analysis, design science, and whole systems are especially critical when a venture has the power to affect people directly. An ongoing iterative process will be especially important as new understandings of sustainability continue to emerge.
Social entrepreneurs who do not have a background in multiple dimensions of sustainability need guidance and mentorship to develop these understandings. Otherwise, even social ventures that appear to be successful may do more harm than good in the long term.
See also Entrepreneurs & Sustainability