Friday, 1 February 2008

Increasing your odds of success in social enterprise

Duncan Goose of One Water – gave a talk to around 250 Cambridge students recently on Enterprise Tuesday. We wondered how he would bring his personal experiences together with a topic on increasing the odds? Would it be just a “Frank Sinatra” story of “I did it my way” – or would there be general lessons we could all take away?

Duncan was in marketing before his mid-life crisis. And yes – he bought a motorbike – but not a Harley Davidson. He bought a bike and went round the world!! Already this man stands apart from his peers. It was during this journey when the purpose and meaning for his life became apparent, especially when he reached Africa only to find that there were so many people without the most basic of human needs – water.

So he created One Water, established an entirely transparent accounting system and by seeking and receiving help he has started to sell bottled water. Why? Because the profits from the sales of water goes to installation of “play pumps” near or at schools. These pumps use child play-power – they are roundabouts and as children play on them they pump up water –approx one litre for every rotation!

The consequence of this? Children come to school. The water is also used for cooking, the benefits of local community and for growing vegetables. A wonderful circulation of benefits in the local ecosystem. The funding for these pumps comes largely from the profits, so the business model is actually sustainable. And Duncan tells us that his little company made more profits than Nestle’s brands of water! This is some achievement of goodwill over capitalism.

So – how does Duncan “increase the odds – when he is cash strapped, resource hungry and a young emerging business?

Lesson1: Start with a goal – a vision that is truly clear and simple to articulate. I can’t agree more with this. I am trustee of a charity and we came up with a goal for the area in which we work – we want it to become a “cataract free zone”. Nice and simple and like water – eyesight is a basic need that can easily be provided.

Lesson 2: Know how much you are prepared to lose in the pursuit of your vision. It is not about being a risk taker – but more about defining your risk limits. Are you prepared to lose your home or your family? What are your limits?

Lesson 3: Be prepared to be contrarian and have the self-belief that what you are doing is the right thing. Of course there is a fine balance between self-belief and stubborn error. You need to be balanced between being open to suggestion and having a strong resolve. Only you and perhaps a mentor can sort this out. You will need to break rules (not the law) of business. Being creative and imaginative is more powerful than taking competition head-on.

Lesson 4: One of the key attributes of entrepreneurship is the need for and ability to manage credibility. You need to appear bigger than you are as a business. You need to project yourself like a peacock! A fan of feathers to attract attention. This is not to say that you should be deceptive – but it is about your mentality – being and thinking like a big business that is starting up – rather than a timid little business that hopes one day to grow.

Lesson 5: If you are getting into social enterprise – one of the strongest values you need is that of Give more than you take. People should always feel that in the balance of relationship they are getting more from you. In such circumstances the goodwill extended to you will be enormous and the combined energy of each person giving to you will propel the organisation forward.

Lesson 6: Action speaks much louder than words. Maybe this is why Nike has its brand associated with the terms “just do it” But in the case of One Water – this action followed a very clearly laid out vision. Action by itself is just irritating!!

Lesson 7: As part of your preparation – you will need to get to know your markets, customers and industries. This sounds like such a common sense statement, yet entrepreneurs, firms and even larger businesses are very weak in this area. It is this “common sense” that is still being taught in ever more sophisticated ways by Business Schools.

Lesson 8: So long as you make a strong link between socially responsible behaviours, good causes and behave in accordance with your espoused values, it is possible for customers to reward you with profits. This is really in stark contract to the pursuit of profit when values can get compromised.

I shall leave it to you to absorb the 8 lessons from a social entrepreneur. We can only delight that anecdote and theory can sometimes merge!

1 comment:

David Stoker said...

Has he considered entering Ashoka's Global Water Challenge competition?