We came across a few inspiring examples of social enterprise recently that provides some good lessons for the stage we are in now. As we mentioned in our last post, we are now in the phase where we are trying to work backwards and really understand the challenges and needs of the group we hope to help. An example we first came across on justmeans.com and then again on the Unreasonable Institute’s fellowship site, highlighted the importance of seeing social challenges in a broader context.
We were first intrigued by Sughar and Bags for Bliss because they seemed like simple concepts but which seemed to be having real impact and were both drawing attention from organizations as big as the UN and the US State Department. Sughar, founded by Khalida Brodi, targets the 40% of Pakistani women that are “barely literate” and have few economic opportunities. Sughar has now expanded to 10 training centers that teaches basic embroidery and business skills so that they can sell their products in the urban markets of Pakistan. By enabling women to bring in money to the family, their status in society rises.
Bags for Bliss goes even further to address the underlying and broader challenges of their target group. Bags for Bliss targets the lowest income Pakistani girls and Afghan refugees that would normally work long hours to bring money back to their families, preventing them from ever going to school and continuing the cycle of poverty. They have developed a program that integrates schooling and entrepreneurial training at the same time, allowing the girls to learn and generate revenue at the same time. The girls develop designer inspired embroidered handbags which provides revenue for their families. Girls are also taught how to do market research themselves, so that eventually they can become independent entrepreneurs if they choose, but they are also empowered with the basic education they would not have normally received.
Both of these organizations are a lesson to us in how to really dig deep and see the whole context in which a target group lives. Providing solutions to a lack of income might do some good, but if we can address more of the fundamental cultural or societal challenges at the same time, a social venture has a much greater opportunity to flourish and create lasting impact. Of course its important to focus one’s efforts. But a social venture should also attempt to address the barriers, as Nobel prize winning economic Amartya Sen put it, that prevent one from “choosing the life one wants to live.”
The Unreasonable Institute, which provides an six-week training for promising entrepreneurs in Boulder, CO every year. Their website describes some other really inspiring social ventures and the people behind them. Check it out.