Devin Thorpe on Social Entrepreneurship: Be Creative

Originally published at blog.weekdone.com

We did a very inspirational interview with social entrepreneur Devin Thorpe, an author and speaker who can best be described with a phrase „champion of social good.“

He tells us that „By applying lessons from business, we should be able to not only make social efforts more self-sustaining but also help them to reach greater scale more quickly.”

Devin encourages companies, all companies, to think about their social responsibilities and that is something we in Weekdone value.

“Technology should serve the mission; the mission shouldn’t be constrained by the technology.”

When Devin makes the world a better place, we’ll make sure that communication technology will not constrain those efforts.


What is social entrepreneurship and why does it matter?

Social entrepreneurship is, by my way of thinking, any use of innovative ideas, especially those borrowed from business, for solving social problems.

Businesses either become self-sustaining or they go out of business. By applying lessons from business, we should be able to not only make social efforts more self-sustaining but also help them to reach greater scale more quickly.

What are the main differences for running a social entrepreneurship vs running a regular company or a startup?

The difference is the focus on social impact. While all business should be focused on the outcomes for customers, the social entrepreneur is focused on some social benefit. These can be harder to monetize, but not impossible.

Increasingly, people recognize that many in a community benefit from solving problems like homelessness. While the homeless may not be able to pay for the services that help them out of their situation, others can pay from the money they save from providing services to them.

For instance, a county government that spends millions on incarcerating the homeless might pay a social entrepreneur to run a program that would help the homeless lead more productive lives. The money could come from the savings at the county on reduced incarceration.

What is the main role for a leader working in a social entrepreneurship?

The primary role for leaders in social entrepreneurship is to create a vision for solving a social problem using business principles and then to create a business model that allows it to grow quickly and become self-sustaining.

The biggest change is the movement away from ordinary enterprises that devote a portion of profits to social causes to the creation of enterprises who core focus is solving the social problem.

We’re moving away from “buy one, give one” to looking at enterprises whose products and services themselves directly contribute to solving the problem.

What sort of internal communication strategies or systems to you prefer? Why?

Be creative and use what works.

There has never been a time in history with more methods for instant communication. If your mission and operation are centered in rural villages in Africa, your communication strategy better incorporate texting via standard feature phones. If everyone is working in one office in Silicon Valley, ironically, the most effective communication tool may be the conference room. If you are spread out globally, you may need to focus on the lowest common denominator — likely email — for your internal communication.

How to become a good leader? What sort of skill set should one develop?

The older I get, the smarter I get and the more I realize I don’t know.

The biggest mistakes I’ve made as a leader were in assuming I knew best when I really didn’t.

Listening to customers and employees — really listening — is key. That said, remember that Steve Jobs didn’t get the iPhone from customer feedback about the MacBook Pro.

You have written about Corporate Social Responsibility. Can you sum up what it is and why should CEOs care? Is it something for big corporations or should startups and smaller firms think about it as well?

Corporate social responsibility done right is the adoption of a social mission by a corporation that exists primarily to generate shareholder value.

CEOs should care because there is increasing evidence that effective CSR programs can add profit and increase shareholder value. Enterprises of all sizes, from solopreneurs to the Fortune 500 can add a social mission. I would argue, in fact, that they must!

Do you feel that organizations have managed to adapt to the rapid growth of technology and are using the opportunities it creates?

I don’t think anyone is taking advantage of all of the opportunities created by technology. I’m not sure that should be the goal. Technology should serve the mission; the mission shouldn’t be constrained by the technology.

What do you think the main challenges will be for running a company in 2020?

Staffing and managing the staff of a company in 2020 will be the greatest challenge.

This will come from increasing globalization. Virtually every enterprise will be getting some direct help and support from contracted staff in the developing world.

Advancing artificial intelligence, the power that drives Apple’s Siri, will be empowering some employees and allowing for others to be laid off.

Companies that find ways to build effective teams across oceans with the language and cultural barriers they represent and that figure out how to retrain and even promote employees who might have their traditional jobs taken over by robots or artificial intelligence systems will have the upper hand as the next decade begins.

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