It is better to learn from others in an economic downturn rather than start from scratch as a social entrepreneur. This was the message for graduate students from Sunday's panel discussion at Wallenberg Hall organized by the Center for Social Innovation, which featured three social entrepreneurs.
Jane Leu, Executive Director and Founder of Upwardly Global, which seeks to integrate immigrant professionals optimally in the US workforce, said that this is a time to "go join something and learn." Leu said that a lot of organizations need people who are entrepreneurial.
Morgan Simon, Executive Director and Cofounder of Responsible Endowments Coalition, said that successfully getting FedEx to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy as a 19-year-old was "a pivotal moment for me." The Responsible Endowments Coalition monitors investments made by various universities and colleges.
But she does wish that she had worked under somebody before branching out on her own. "Having an idea and vision is not enough," Simon said. "Managing people is equally important."
She warned against a tendency to focus on the idea, with execution "supposed to happen magically."
Leu said that there is too much supply when it comes to non-profits. She hoped that the economic downturn would lead to a market correction.
Charles Slaughter, Founder and President of LivingGoods, agreed there was inefficiency and said, "There are three organizations I know, within 50 miles, doing the same thing." LivingGoods operates networks that sell essential health prices at affordable prices to the poor.
In the initial days, Leu said she had sent off a huge bunch of grant proposals, only to get rejects. A journalist friend gave $300 and that, she said, prompted her to "do something and begin talking with immigrants." She wishes now that she had gone to friends and family when she started.
Leu's mantra is, "Don't let funding be the limiting factor."
Leu regards corporations as the "change-makers" and feels that to get further it is necessary to engage with them. She said, "It's easier for me to see my work as a business rather than as an advocacy." According to Lee, 30 per cent of Upwardly Global's funds come from earned income from working with corporate partners.
Slaughter is also keen on models that generate their own revenue, and regards microfinance as a big international success story in the last 20-30 years. He said that the differences in the ways the government, business and social sector operate are increasingly getting blurred, with each borrowing techniques from the other.
Slaughter said that 90 per cent of his organization's funds came from "current or former entrepreneurs." He said they were people "who see the logic of using a business model for social issues." Before moving to social entrepreneurship, Slaughter ran TravelSmith Outfitters, a direct marketer of travel clothing and gear, for 13 years.
Slaughter feels that the method of fundraising should be logically connected to the program. He said, "The most successful organizations were not those with diversified fundraising."
For Simon, the first three years were a struggle, but they did get support from some investment firms. She said support from the various foundations came after that.
Simon said, "It's really been through the relationships that funding has come." She said they still feel connected with the 15 companies who backed them initially.
The social entrepreneurs also said it is worth tapping into venture philanthropy. This comprises of a small group of funders, who will fund at the early stage.
Regina Ridley, Publishing Director of Stanford Social Innovation Review, moderated the discussion.
An exhibition featuring several social entrepreneurship schemes followed the discussion.
M.A. Journalism ‘09