In a previous article I went over ways for aspiring entrepreneurs to come up with social business ideas.
That article focused on ideation, or creating new ideas from scratch, or else finding opportunity to reapply and reinvent old ideas.
If you haven’t read that article, I encourage you to do so, as this one is a sort of continuation.
I’m going to jump into more specific examples of where and how you can come up with social business ideas.
Don’t feel bound to this list! If you find your interests, passions, and ideas drifting in different directions, you owe it to yourself to explore your own ambitions. Many times the path to a great idea is winding and indirect.
Sometimes, you’ll have to “strike gold” to find a good idea. A bit of random luck can go a long ways but won’t happen if you’re not at least looking.
That being said, there are steps you can take, including ideation, to increase your chances of success. I don’t want to spend too much time rehashing ideation for social business. However, there is one point that every social entrepreneur should uphold: know and respect the communities you are working in and the causes you are working on.
To be blunt, there are a lot of would-be Change Creators and do-gooders out there who have their heart in the right place, but don’t understand their community and causes. As a result, resources are squandered and sometimes communities are harmed. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Another factor to consider is yourself.
What are your passions? Where do your talents lie? Can you align your talents and passions to improve a community or further a cause?
Is there an opportunity to bring market forces into play to support your efforts? If so, you may have a great social entrepreneurship opportunity at hand.
Look For Cross-Compensation Opportunities
With Cross-Compensation initiatives one group pays for a product or service. The profits of these products or services are then directed back to an underserved community. This way, those who can afford to pay end up paying. Meanwhile, resources are directed back to an underserved community.
Inequality has increased dramatically over the same several years. As Bill Kramer notes in his Change Creator article “The Regenerative Economy”, eight men now hold as much wealth as the world’s bottom 50 percent, and the top one percent own more than everyone else.
Fighting income inequality is a fantastic cause, and cross-compensation be an excellent tool because those who can afford to pay, will pay. Those who can’t can still get access to resources.
Often, those who pay won’t view the reallocation of their spending as a detriment. Just the opposite, they could be spurred to make a purchase precisely because they know their hard-earned money will be put to good use. As such, cross-compensation can become a part of your marketing and brand.
What does a cross-compensation social enterprise look like?
What would a cross-compensation social entrepreneurship business look like? Consider a restaurant. You start a restaurant and then donate 15% of your revenues to support soup kitchens and food banks. Customers who can afford to pay are treated to a great meal. Meanwhile, struggling families and individuals will enjoy greater access to resources.
Or perhaps you can build an educational app. Customers in Europe and the United States can pay for the app. Instead of pocketing the profits, however, you can fund technology and education projects in developing countries. There are many possibilities. As your business takes root, you can use your donations as a way to distinguish yourself in often crowded markets.
Find Ways to Connect Markets
If you’ve had the opportunity to travel to exotic and far flung regions of the world, you may have come across some truly amazing local products, services, and other things. Is there a way to connect those resources with other markets? For example, let’s assume that a country is building up its eco-tourism market. You stayed at some truly awesome eco lodges, participated in awesome local community building projects, and various other activities.
Is there an opportunity for you to connect markets? Even simply spreading awareness of the eco tourism opportunities you enjoyed could be making a difference. Even a simple post on social media would help.
Never underestimate the impact of social media.
Never underestimate the impact of social media. Michael Berean explores social media’s impact, from real-time emergency response to digitizing donations, his article “The Power of Social Media Tech During Times of Need”. You can read about it in the Change Creator Magazine, issue #12
Have Some Business Acumen Behind You
How about building an actual business?
Can you create an app that helps backpackers and other travelers find great ecologically friendly places to stay. By doing so, you may be able to greatly help the local community or organizations, generating revenue growth and perhaps kickstarting the local eco-economy.
Of course, connecting markets can mean a lot of different things. Perhaps while hiking through central America you stumble across an amazing coffee farming co-op. Can you plug that co-op in with bean roasters back home?
Speaking of apps, how about Atlas, they developed a running app that support important causes and were able to raise funding for their program. You can read about them in issue #11 of Change Creator Magazine.
Turn Existing Businesses Into Social Enterprises
Starting a social enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. Of course, if you do find an opportunity to do something all-new and never done before, go ahead and pursue it. However, another route is to look at already established business models to see if there is a way to establish a social enterprise based on the same (or similar) models.
Consider grocery stores. They have been around for years and years. In the United States alone there are roughly 40,000 grocery stores. How about building a sustainable grocery store that sells all-natural foods, is powered by solar panels, and focuses on selling local produce and other goods? There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this concept, but the sum impact could be substantial.
The same is true with many different business models. Perhaps you’re a business skill coach, helping everyone from junior employees to CEOs with a variety of personal and leadership skills. Fantastic. Now how about setting up workshops for disadvantaged communities, such as refugees, to teach them basic business skills? Better yet, maybe you can find corporate sponsors. Perhaps a department store chain will help pay for the events, and in exchange you could refer potential employees?
There are so many ways to turn existing businesses into social enterprises that this list could go on near infinitely. Think about your own consumer habits. What do you like to do? What do you like to buy? Now, can you add social aspects in unique ways to create value for communities and causes?
Another option is to get existing, non-social enterprises to donate goods and services. Many companies would be willing to donate resources, such as software and computers, but they need a social entrepreneur to help out. Consider “TechSoup”, which works with software companies to donate software and hardware to nonprofits and other organizations. TechSoup also provides other forms of technology assistance, such as training. You can learn more about TechSoup in “Powering Up Social Impact” in issue 7 of Change Creator Magazine.
Don’t Forget Digital Opportunities
A lot of social entrepreneurs love getting their hands dirty. Get out in the community, live there, get to know the challenges first hand. This is fantastic, and to the greatest extent possible, social entrepreneurs should get hands on experience. However, this “on-the-ground” approach often results in a perhaps too intensive approach to creating physical products and solutions.
The Internet, smartphones, and other tech devices have emerged as very powerful tools in recent years. Just ten years ago, if you needed a ride somewhere and didn’t own a car, you’d have to hail a taxi. Now, you can dial up Lyft or another rideshare right on your phone and get a relatively cheap ride.
A lot of people looking to help a community will focus on physical solutions. Let’s say you want to provide employment skills to a disadvantaged community, such as single mothers. Holding classes at the local neighborhood center is great, but what if mom can’t come because of her work and family schedule? For single moms, time is often in short supply. How about developing some Youtube videos that mom can watch on her phone or computer? Even if she has to go to the library to access a computer, she will have more flexibility than if you just held physical classes.
This is a really simple idea, and one that you can implement even if you’re not all that technologically savvy. If you happen to have more well-developed tech skills, you should consider developing an app. What about creating a carpooling ride share program where people can provide free rides to disadvantaged people on their way to work?
Conclusion: So Many Ideas and So Many Places and Ways to Find Them
This list is far from exhaustive. Wherever markets are at play, there is likely a social business or angle opportunity. Rather than worrying about specific ideas, take some time to step back and look at both yourself and the market. Figure out where your passions lie. Figure out what your skills truly are. Then, examine the market for opportunities to use those skills and passions to create change and to produce profits.
Remember, the market is the social entrepreneur’s friend. Markets determine which ideas and opportunities are viable and profitable.
Profits, meanwhile, can be used to generate positive change.
However, make sure you don’t sell out your causes and communities in the name of profits.
Your causes and communities should always take precedent.
Our list of social business ideas to further inspire you! Let the ideas flow!
- Sustainable ethical clothing company — https://www.tamgadesigns.com/
- Zero-waste restaurant- http://www.blogto.com/restaurants/maizal-quesadilla-cafe-toronto/
- Zero-waste grocery store — http://www.nadagrocery.com/
- Online ecommerce education-based solution — https://textbooksforchange.com/
- Social crowdfunding — https://startsomegood.com/
- Running app that gives back — https://atlasrun.com/
- A tech solution that helps — Simprints — https://www.simprints.com
- Using food science to help combat poverty — Aspire — http://www.aspirefg.com
- Contributing to recycling by producing toys for pets that are made from textile waste and giving opportunities to come back to the society to those who are in jail, VINOOK — http://vinook.com.mx/
- Help educate others — Quantica — https://www.quanticaeducation.com/en/home/
- Finding a new source of food — Acari — https://www.acarifish.com