Case In Point: A For-Profit Model for Social Entrepreneurship

Is it possible for social entrepreneurs to improve the lives of others and make a profit? For Sanergy, a startup dedicated to making hygienic sanitation accessible, affordable, and prosperous for those in developing countries, the answer seems to be yes.

The story of this startup— now an entrepreneurship venture seeded by grants from the likes of USAID, MIT, and Berkeley, to name a few—is covered in Sanergy: Using Social Entrepreneurship to Solve Emerging Market Problems, a case study from SAGE Business Cases. Using Sanergy as an example, case author Carole Carlson discusses the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship and how early stage entrepreneur ventures can evaluate expansion and new market opportunities.

Dr. Carole Carlson

Delving further into these topics, we interviewed Dr. Carlson for our inaugural post in the new Case In Point series. Drawn from our business case collection and containing insights from thought leaders in business and management, posts from this series will be published monthly. Read on to see Dr. Carlson’s interview and check back next month for a new installment.

Dr. Carlson is the MBA Program Director and a Senior Lecturer at theHeller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University.

  1. The case you wrote outlines an early stage, for-profit venture that addresses a real social need in a developing country. In your opinion, what are the top three takeaways for other budding entrepreneurs with a social mindset?

I think that the major takeaway is that it is possible for an entrepreneurial team to use out-of-the-box thinking to innovate and develop new ideas.

A second takeaway is that not all social problems need to be addressed by non-profit organizations.

Finally, at Sanergy, as in so many other places, entrepreneurial startups can be really challenging, and sustained focus and a committed high quality team are essential to success.

  1. How does the application of social entrepreneurship in the for-profit world differ from applications in the non-profit world? Have you seen a growth in for-profit social entrepreneurial ventures?

There are a number of differences, but perhaps the most important one is that for-profits and nonprofits usually access very different funding.  In short, they play in different capital markets.  And the best organizational approach typically depends on the organization’s business model and scaling ambitions.

  1. How does social impact measurement factor into social entrepreneurship?

In my view, measurement is essential.  Social entrepreneurs, whether working with for-profit or nonprofit organizations, are accountable to their stakeholders – and this requires transparent measurement of their results.  That said, fast-moving entrepreneurs also need to be pragmatic.  It would not make sense for a social venture, for example, to spend half of its resources measuring results.  The entrepreneurs need to focus on the most important indicators.

  1. How pervasive is the teaching of social entrepreneurship across your campus? What level of interest do you see from students?

We see a real groundswell of interest.  For example, this past semester we hosted the Heller Startup Challenge, which focused exclusively on mission-driven startups, and a regional competition for the Hult Prize.  Both graduate and undergraduate students are drawn to concepts where they can grow as entrepreneurs while making a difference in society.  The Heller MBA at Brandeis focuses squarely on students that want to explore their interest in social justice while receiving a rigorous business education.

Learn more by reading the full case study, Sanergy: Using Social Entrepreneurship to Solve Emerging Market Problems, from SAGE Business Cases, open to the public for a limited time. To learn more about SAGE Business Cases and to find out how to submit a case to the collection, please contact Rachel Taliaferro, Associate Editor: rachel.taliaferro@sagepub.com.

     
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