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Too often the right people try to become social entrepreneurs for the wrong reasons. Illustrations by Uttam Ghosh and Dominic Xavier
Social entrepreneurship is fast becoming a buzz word.
Every day you hear of a new social enterprise conference, fellowship, award, start-up being funded, new fund being closed and so on.
No doubt there is going to be a huge interest in fresh graduates, young professionals and seasoned veterans wanting to take a stab at social entrepreneurship.
It would serve the industry well if the right profile of individuals jumped into the fray and started companies.
Too often the right people try to become social entrepreneurs for the wrong reasons.
Here are five reasons why you should not consider becoming a social entrepreneur.
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1. You feel passionately about an idea
We get it. You have been frothing at the mouth and feel rabidly about the environment, alleviating people from poverty, saving women from being exploited, bringing healthcare to all, educating children, skilling the unemployed or pioneering affordable housing.
Passion is good. It will help you muster up the courage to quit that well-paying job, convince your parents or your wife this just wasn’t a moment of immense clarity brought about by dropping acid but is the real deal and even get your friends, family and fools to invest in your idea.
But only passion is passe.
Well done! Once you run down the initial stretch, you are bound to hit a few road bumps; this is where the rubber hits the road.
You will have to fight all the familiar problems that entrepreneurs face: Hiring a team, raising follow-up funds, mundane paperwork, initial idea not working with no pivot in sight and money drying up.
Once your passion dries up in the tank, you need a back-up reservoir that is filled with the entrepreneurial spirit.
If you lack entrepreneurial chops, might as well pack up and shut shop, because passion will get you to the stream, but to bend down and drink you will need to know the nuts and bolts of how to build a business.
If you don’t have it yourself, please find a co-founder who has the necessary wherewithal to build a business.
2. Seeking a $357 million SKS Microfinance type IPO
So you have been hearing that impact investing is the next big thing and you want in.
If you want to become a social entrepreneur because you want to make a pot on money, and are hoping for a big exit, you might want to think twice.
For starters, not all ideas make money; there are quite a few social enterprises that are 'not for profit', and the ones that are 'for profit' make very less money.
Scaling a social enterprise might take years, because of the very nature that it needs to focus on the double bottom-line, social impact can sometimes come in the way of pumping out greenbacks.
A sole focus on gushing cash can lead to mission drift and blindness to the original vision.
Remember that in impact investing, impact comes before investing, therefore profit, even though is vital for the survival of the organisation never comes at the cost of impact.
Most social entrepreneurs give up the trappings of luxury, foreign holidays, expensive cars and big houses till they have invested enough time and effort to build both impact and a solid business.
This can frustratingly take years, before you eat from the fruit of your labour.
3. Corporate life has left you jaded
Not everybody in corporate life is happy, and a lot of mid-level executives who have bought that house and car, and put away a fair amount of savings are ready for new challenges that are more meaningful.
Social entrepreneurship seems to be that sweet spot between a desire for social change and the use of business practices.
The social entrepreneurship industry may not pay as much as most of the corporate world, but the pay isn’t bad either, in fact some social enterprises pay quite handsomely.
Becoming a social entrepreneur may however not replace your need to substitute corporate drudgery with a challenging and meaningful second career.
Most of your time might be spent trying to convince various stakeholders about your idea.
Without the humongous corporate resources at your disposal you might have to do more with less; most systems and processes have to be created anew.
Founding a social enterprise will mean having to work extremely hard only to find out that progress is slow, and sometimes non-existent.
Also scaling up is difficult and sometimes it might feel akin to banging your head against a granite surface.
4. You want to give back to society
Founding a social enterprise is not the same as giving to charity or volunteering your time.
It will be a life-changing experience, which without passion, purpose and entrepreneurial skills will prove to be a non-starter.
Consider this: Unlike traditional entrepreneurship where it is easy to find a co-founder or two, in social entrepreneurship, most ideas are born in isolation.
Unlike selling an e-commerce idea, finding a founder who will share the same vision is difficult.
If you want to do something for society having reached a state of self-actualisation, there might be other ways to get that monkey off your back.
Take a sabbatical, volunteer, accept a fellowship at a social enterprise or find a way to become a social intrapreneur in your company.
Social entrepreneurs are a rare breed; most of them will give up family, friends, money.
They will face ridicule, criticism, bankruptcy and still give up their dream.
Unfortunately, an urge to give back to society is not all that it takes to become a successful social entrepreneur.
5. Suffering from mid-life crisis and your career is stuck in dullsville
You were a bright star at work, now you have been sidelined and others less deserving are moving ahead and being promoted.
Moving to another company is not an option as the economy is bad and hiring has reduced.
Worse, you are having a mid-life crisis.
All good reasons to consider quitting and doing something new, even entrepreneurial, but don’t consider becoming a social entrepreneur if you haven’t done the due diligence.
You might want to consider fixing the situation at work first before thinking of social entrepreneurship as a career.
Still not working?
Consider becoming an employee of a social enterprise before starting up on your own.
Doing your own social enterprise start-up should be your last choice.
As mentioned previously, if the reason behind you pursuing entrepreneurship is not because your other gig is going bad, you probably want to found a social enterprise because you have been consumed by a purpose to do only this, which is the right way to go about it.