How Social Entrepreneurs Can Take Advantage of Social Enterprise Ecosystems

For a company to be successful, it must integrate and interact with a wide variety of actors, including other companies, international organizations, governments, banks, investors, and others. The term ecosystem is often used to refer to these relationships and interactions. As Jager, Symmes, and Cardoza state in their book Scaling Strategies for Social Entrepreneurs, the term ecosystems is widely used by scholars to describe the complex relationships and diversity of actors with whom a social entrepreneur must relate in order to achieve his goals.

Navigating in an ecosystem is a complex task, especially if the entrepreneur doesn’t have a strategy for establishing a relationship with each actor. In addition, entrepreneurs have to keep in mind that ecosystems are not the idyllic place they often think, where all the actors will be open and willing to lend a hand to the entrepreneur. In fact, in most countries, ecosystems do not work well, and there is little articulation between some key actors.

How should social entrepreneurs then navigate and take advantage of social enterprise ecosystems?

Jager, Symmes, and Cardoza state that a social entrepreneur must use a market approach to explore and take advantage of opportunities that allow negotiating impact with diverse actors. Given this concept and in addition to the fact that ecosystems in many cases do not work quite well, we understand that the social entrepreneur must not only look to be part of an existing ecosystem but rather must build his own ecosystem based on his needs.

The steps that a social entrepreneur can follow to build their own ecosystem are:

1. Identify regulatory frameworks and negotiation standards

Both social entrepreneurs and the actors with whom the entrepreneur wants to establish relationships are framed by regulations, laws, and norms that determine how these relationships are negotiated. Social entrepreneurs should know these regulatory frameworks thoroughly and identify how they can use them in their favor. In addition to the laws, there are standards of each sector that allow establishing a common language between the negotiating parties. Some examples of these standards are ISO standards, SDGs, and impact indicators such as IRIS, among others. The social entrepreneur must identify which negotiation standard works best for a particular actor.

2. Identify needs and the actors that can supply them

Before venturing to build an ecosystem, social entrepreneurs must identify their needs for economic and non-economic resources. Once this diagnosis is made, entrepreneurs will be able to identify – more quickly – possible actors that can meet those needs. This saves the social entrepreneur time since his search will be more focused and efficient.

3. Establish the negotiation

Once the actors have been identified and what is wanted of them, as well as the regulatory frameworks and standards that will determine the way of relating, the social entrepreneur is ready to be able to enter into negotiations with these actors. During the negotiation phase, it is possible for the entrepreneur to discover new opportunities or resources that he had not previously considered. This is why the entrepreneur must keep an open mind, with a clear objective of what he wants to obtain, but being flexible in how he is going to obtain it.

Social entrepreneurship ecosystems are constantly changing and, for this reason, social entrepreneurs must remain alert to these changes and by always asking the question: With which actors can the organization’s impact be negotiated to continue scaling?

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