Around a year ago, I voluntarily walked away from my secure career as an automotive engineer and gathered my savings to start up a social enterprise. Seeing disillusionment in my current career and following a significant life event – the passing of my mother – I decided to take a sabbatical.
During this break I visited several local groups in India and my native west Africa. I met marginalised members of society who were creating products in an effort to raise themselves out of poverty.
That’s when I had my idea – why not provide a market for their products in the UK? Profits made from sales would go back into those same communities to fund projects that empower the less fortunate. At the same time, the producers can lift themselves out of poverty by making a sustainable living. The idea made perfect sense.
I knew from that moment this was going to be my future. For me, social enterprise is the best approach to the poverty challenge
I knew from that moment this was going to be my future. For me, social enterprise is the best approach to the poverty challenge because handout charity doesn’t work for all issues. It certainly works in some cases – for example the British Red Cross, but I feel it’s the wrong approach to tackle poverty.
I distinctly remember Jetta, a lady whom I met in Burkina Faso, saying that she could sew and sell produce, but she didn’t have the opportunity to do so. Jetta and many women like her shared a room no bigger than 4×4 metres with her husband and three daughters. We both felt that her situation required access to the means and not the end. From this perspective, social enterprise becomes a much more sustainable avenue than charity.
Working for a social purpose somewhat feels like going against the grain: there is a very limited pool of investors compared to a standard equity-based model, so it takes longer to become investment-ready. You need a long time to plan your enterprise before getting off the ground.
I have taken the route of a gentle transition by getting a part time job, so that I can do the groundwork to make my business investment-ready while also being able to pay rent. There are also excellent funding avenues, such as crowdfunding, where social enterprises can directly reach the public.
The best advice I can offer at this stage to other social startups is to be patient and don’t rush it.
Make sure you are making the right decision for your cause at every step. Impatience creeps in – so always assess each decision against your values and the core reasons why you exist as a social enterprise.
Life is different now than when I was working as an engineer. I feel a much greater sense of fulfilment in knowing that I am having a say in what happens to the profits I help generate. I also find it refreshing to have the ability to do the right thing in many business situations because my first question has become « what is the human thing to do? » rather than « what is best for profit? » I find myself happier working long hours and feel generally in a more positive mood even with a salary that’s a fraction of what I used to earn.
I strongly believe the future of business is social, because it benefits everyone.
The philosophy can be implemented in any country, every continent. I encourage us all to take the leap and lead by example to make this happen.
Kevin Cheeseman is founder of Pure Social Enterprise
Reblogged from theguardian.com
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