If your social enterprise has a mission of job creation, you may want to utilize the entrepreneurial skill sets of the local population. People who are struggling in under-developed nations or on the margins in industrial nations frequently have such skills, which can then be developed and utilized to grow your business. Let me give you an example from personal experiences.
In the early 1990’s, I was involved with starting a business in Poland. (I decided not to proceed, which is a story in itself.) I noticed that as Poland became a free market country, many of its people began to use the entrepreneurial skills learned during communist rule. This may sound strange, but communism indirectly encouraged entrepreneurial activity as a survival strategy.
— If you wanted to buy quality goods, you needed U.S. dollars rather than Polish zlotys. This required exchanging zlotys for tourist dollars, which although illegal was commonplace and done openly in the streets.
— My father in the U.S. would send an order of hard-to-get pens to my uncle who lived in Poland, who in turn sold them for dollars. My father was the most honest man you’d ever meet, but he considered it okay to circumvent the laws of an illegitimate government.
— It was easier to get things if you figured out how to trade with your Polish acquaintances. For example, if you had access to chocolates through the factory that you worked in, you could trade them for a good cut of meat from the butcher. This didn’t necessitate stealing – you simply got to jump to the front of the line.
What all of these activities had in common was a creative, entrepreneurial mindset generated by the need to survive. There are many people around the world who demonstrate the creativity and drive to be an asset to your for-profit business. In the U.S., drug pushers released from prison would fit this profile. In countries such as India, large producers of consumer goods use networks of individuals to distribute their products. The whole concept of micro-finance is built on financing small entrepreneurial start-ups.
Where is the opportunity for your social enterprise to utilize local entrepreneurial skills and create jobs while making a profit?
This is the first in a series of blogs meant to stimulate thinking on profiting from activities that have a social impact. I appreciate your comments on the above blog and thoughts on other ideas. I will utilize these ideas in future blogs, and eventually summarize the ideas in a list and white paper(s).