When launching a social venture, one of the first things a nascent entrepreneur must decide is whether they want to provide deep and meaningful impact to a select number of people or cast a wider net and touch the lives of many people across different communities, countries, and continents. At The Resolution Project, we’ve helped launch and grow over 300 social enterprises through our Fellowship program, and have therefore seen the success of both depth and breadth of impact. For those who want to permanently improve the lives of a select number of people by providing households with clean drinking water, for example, it’s about commitment and dedication. However, for those who want to touch more lives through tech platforms, advocacy, education, and other more easily-scalable programs, it’s all about honing a model and finding that rocket fuel.
As a result of the 300 social ventures we have supported over the last decade, nearly 3 million people have been positively impacted across 80 countries. Many Resolution Fellows are now on track to join the Million Lives Club by 2030. In the process of supporting these young leaders, we’ve learned a few things about early stage social entrepreneurship and the path to scale.
1. CAPITAL ISN'T SCARCE, BUT ACCESS TO CAPITAL IS
Over the past few years, new digital tools and resources have showcased the fact that many different sources of capital exist for social entrepreneurs; from family foundations, to government grants, to social impact accelerators. While most of these resources are technically open for all, access is not as democratic, particularly for those who are just starting out, as funders and investors are flooded with even more requests for capital than before. As a result, funders often find themselves falling back on trusted introductions and highly specialized procurement processes. Social entrepreneurs can overcome these barriers by building their own networks, investing in long-term relationships, and honing their skills in marketing, pitching, and proposal-writing.
Organizations like the Million Lives Club and The Resolution Project create trusted referral networks that expand access to capital through proven success. Once a previously unfunded entrepreneur has gained their initial investment, other funders and supporters will then rush to get involved—everyone wants to be second. At The Resolution Project, our role as the very first believer is a position we cherish as it opens up a plethora of exciting opportunities for the young social entrepreneurs we are so proud to support.
2. SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
While Silicon Valley has encouraged entrepreneurs to “go fast and break things” (a quote that Facebook used as its official motto up until 2014), that simply isn’t an option for many of the social entrepreneurs we are working with. We prefer to focus on incremental steps, measured risk, and an intense emphasis on learning from program and product design through testing and implementation. In fact, Resolution Fellows begin their entrepreneurial journeys with a series of educational resources on Measurement, Evaluation and Learning that shapes their entire path; positioning them to use that data to fund future iterations and potentially scale their venture when the time is right. Collecting robust data and using it to inform decisions also sets them up for success when speaking to funders and investors about outcomes and decision making.
3. PROXIMITY AND PURPOSE BEAT PEDIGREE
No matter what university degree or GPA score a young social entrepreneur may have, we’ve often found the most successful ventures are run by those who work in close proximity with the people they are benefiting. Not only do they have a deeper understanding of the issues in their communities, they tend to have an increased sense of purpose and drive as well. Their solutions can provide more holistic support for people in need through advocacy, education, and partnership; leading to greater adoption, higher levels of community trust, and better results.
4. IMPACT IS A TEAM SPORT
Enacting meaningful and sustainable change in people, systems, and societies is very, very hard work. Resolution Fellows who see outsized success as change-agents rely on their partners, networks, and the communities they operate in to achieve their desired outcomes. We encourage them to spend a lot of time building their core team, articulating strong organizational values and team culture, and cultivating partnerships. We also believe in forming effective relationships and using coalitions to draw out the best of each other’s skill sets in order to achieve maximized results. The strongest social enterprise environments we have seen invest in building local and sequenced social impact ecosystems through partnerships, and we encourage funders to invest in ecosystem building to create a strong foundation.
At The Resolution Project, we’ve been excited to support and partner with the Million Lives Club to help create a clear pathway for social enterprises to scale. As more and more entrepreneurs strive to positively impact one million people and beyond, we hope some of these lessons will help to ensure dignity and sustainability are at the top of the agenda throughout the entire process of scaling.
Banner image provided by the Resolution Project