How To Create And Run A Social Enterprise Successfully – Tom-Chris Emewulu

In a world filled with compassionate and ambitious young social entrepreneurs, it’s crucial that we discuss the subject of creating successful enterprises capable of making a positive impact on the world. To this end, I had the opportunity to speak with Tom-Chris Emewulu, one of Africa’s foremost social entrepreneurs and the founder of Starts From All Nation, to gain insights into how we can launch and maintain a thriving social enterprise, particularly in Africa.


Prince Akpah: What is a Social Enterprise?

Tom-Chris: Popular literature defines social enterprises as entities that utilize business principles or strategies to solve social problems, but I like to define it as a business that creates exponential impact while maximizing profits for its shareholders.

A lot of people have a notion that a social enterprise is not supposed to have a lot of focus on revenue-generation but should rather focus on delivering impact. That’s not the absolute truth in my opinion. I think that the single and sufficient denominator between a social enterprise and other forms of enterprises is the ability to remain sustainable while creating social impact. i.e a social enterprise has a product or service it serves the market with and uses its surplus resources to serve the community or create a deliberate, measurable, and sustained change.

Prince Akpah: What are the best steps to start a Social Enterprise?

Tom-Chris: The first step to starting a social enterprise is to figure out what needs you want to solve. Like every business, experts have said that if you start with a problem in mind, you have a high chance of creating a product or service that people actually need.

Then you need to develop a system for delivering your solution. This involves understanding who your clients or beneficiaries are, building a team based on what the business needs, developing a pricing/marketing strategy, and finally developing a method for measuring your work. The later is a challenge for most social entrepreneurs but those that get it right are always in a better position of maintaining accountability with their stakeholders and possibly attracting financing.

Nevertheless, the most vital point to note is that a social enterprise is built on values. The values you enshrine into your business will determine how it will stand the test of time. So as a wise entrepreneur, you need to figure out the things that you hold dear and create a compelling argument why those things matter for your business because, again, our businesses obtain their values from us; the founders.

Finally, you have to clearly define what distinguish you from numerous businesses that might be solving the same or similar problem as you. Your unique selling proposition is vital because it helps your audience to identify and connect with you.

Prince Akpah: Should Social Enterprise always be about solving a problem?

Tom-Chris: Absolutely. As expressed above, if you don’t have a problem you’re solving in a focused, determined and deliberate manner, you are wasting your time.

Prince Akpah: What practical ways can one raise funding for a Social Enterprise

Tom-Chris: Well, fundraising is a challenge for most businesses. Firstly, I think that any social enterprise that cannot prove the business idea without any “external funding” needs to reconsider the idea. To be clear, this depends, to some extent, on the nature of the business but I always recommend that the entrepreneur should start with a minimal level of the product or service. Do the things you can do today to turn your idea into a product or service that a customer is willing to pay for, and then find those who can pay you to have it without spending so much resources in this process.

Bootstrapping is very important because it gives you a certain discipline you might not acquire otherwise. 

At the early stages of your business, find out institutions or agencies that can support your dream without asking for so much in return. As your legs get stronger, you can get advice on how to utilize other sources of funding. Leverage equity investment, impact investors, crowdfunding, mentors, free resources/software, family and friends, and extended social networks. I have found that most of my biggest results came from networks and relationships that were carefully pruned and this is what social entrepreneurship is about; networking, creating communities, cultivating lasting relationships, connecting people or resources, solving problems.

Prince Akpah: Should a Social Enterprise be focused on long or short-term goals?

Tom-Chris: I’ve always believed that Brian Tracy was right when he said that success is goals. Essentially, there are different types of goals; long-term, medium-term, and short-term. These are vital and complements one another. A lot of people have big goals but their goals become unachievable because as they look at them each day, they feel overwhelmed and it saps their energy. This is why you need to break down your long-term goals into short-term and medium-term goals.

What this really means is that you need to figure out what to do today to get yourself even closer to the actualisation of your aspirations. Decide what you want in whatever number of years that means long-term for you and determine what you can do in the foreseeable future to get there. Add a date to them and get on making it happen!

Prince Akpah: Tips for keeping a Social Enterprise financially viable.

Tom-Chris: Discipline is the ingredient you need to remain financially viable. A lot of us often think that when we get all the money we need, our financial troubles will be in the past but that’s not true. According to numerous research and publications, one major challenge facing entrepreneurs is how to manage the finances they have. So, you need to develop some level of financial intelligence and frugality or employ those who can help you manage your books.

Secondly, you need to create something that people are paying for. If you are not making revenue that leads to profit, you will never remain sustainable. 

Set pride aside and focus on building a business. Some people get bloated with ego when they begin to see some level of traction and they lose focus on reality. I have always wondered how social enterprises like Groundswell, Compreneurship, Biolite, etc are built. One of the things I’ve found is that their founders, like every great founder, are continually dedicated to building an enduring system, and nuancing their thinking and process.

Go with confidence, do your due diligence, build a team, distinguish yourself, build a business based on values and don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.

NB: This article and interview was done in 2017.


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