The Top 3 Rules for Social Impact Entrepreneurs

Last Friday, Mischa and Loquen hosted 5 other entrepreneurs in their home for a Friday lunch talk — a hīven tradition — with one goal in mind: exchange around social impacts.

Among them were Carla Buggs, founder of the Bay Area Black Market (BABM), who shared her incredible entrepreneurship journey. Carla turned her mobile nail professionals business into a highly successful network of local Black Owned Businesses, by listening closely to what her community needed.

Rychelle McKenzie was there too. She works at COOP, a talent and diversity development nonprofit that trains recent college grads in digital marketing & data analytics to help them enter the job market.

After closely listening to all what the entrepreneurs in this room had to say, here are my top 3 rules for mission-driven enterprises.

1. Solve a Problem You’re Passionate About

Photo by Avel Chuklanov

We all got problems but let’s face it…. founding a startup is a huge trend and being “mission-driven” too often can be just a branding strategy. Most of the time, none of the founders have actually experienced the problem themselves.

Deeply passionate entrepreneurs need a sincere and deep reason to start this crazy roller coaster. That’s where mission-driven entrepreneurship starts. From a problem that truly matters to you. Better yet, solve a problem you’ve experienced…or help people who you deeply care about. Around this problem, a solution gets built. And beyond this initial solution, a vision emerges.

Walking the Walk

Carla took note of the challenges facing local businesses and did her best to solve them. That evolved into a directory connecting local businesses and has now become a type of accelerator program to help young businesses find financial backing, overcoming barriers faced by communities of color.

Rychelle went through the COOP education program herself in New York City. She decided to join, inspired and impressed by the real impacts the non-profit has on helping young teenagers get a job.

It helped me reflect on my own “why”. I had to work 2–3 jobs in college to cover tuition fees and pay the rent (while studying the housing crisis)! I was exhausted, couldn’t focus on learning nor doing what I love. I tried to rationalize the problem. Eventually, I noticed that my living room was empty all day long and began thinking of ways to leverage that unused space to make it available to my community.

2. Active Listening + Co-Design

The people you’re designing for need to be at the center of your solution as part of a collaborative effort. You want to build a solution for kids or businesses? Long term success for social solutions requires design with an iterative feedback-loop approach. You might succeed without the active involvement of your target audiences but your chances are much better if you include them.

The people you’re serving are the experts on the issue you’re tackling, so you want them providing insights wherever possible.

Remember to build that continuous engagement with your community into your product or service design, with feedback surveys, private reviews, immersive workshops or regular interviews. See here an amazing listing of all co-design methods, put together by MIT and UC Berkeley.

3. Be coherent with your mission

Every single step in build process should be directed to achieving your mission. Here is an interesting article about to spread and maintain your mission across your organization.

Work to eliminate, not reinforce, harmful stereotypes and power imbalances. After all, the whole idea of social impact is to solve problems facing us all; being hypocritical or clueless will not likely bring you the positive attention you’re working so hard to receive.

An example that really resonates with me is the inherent discriminatory issues that arise from the feature “decline/accept” that you see on almost all sharing economy marketplaces. Please have a look at this interesting article on how to fix discrimination in online marketplaces.

SO — if you’re mission-driven, want to start your own thing, or if you’re already doing so — just keep in mind those 3 principles: