Five Tips for Social Entrepreneurs
Social enterprises can help create employment opportunities for often-discriminated or neglected populations, such as those with disabilities, refugees and victims of human trafficking. Moreover, socially run businesses develop a local identity and sense of belonging in the community, and the profits are normally invested back into the area economy.
At Namaste NYC, an initiative I started in 2013 in India, we work with women with disabilities to create scarves, apparel and jewelry to generate employment opportunities and revive the country’s dying craft industry. We make all our products in sweat-free, women-operated ethical workshops, and we partner with skilled male printers to hand block print the textiles with natural dyes.
In addition to Namaste NYC, I work at Jefferson’s Blackstone LaunchPad Entrepreneurship Center where I help students, faculty and alumni live their entrepreneurial dreams. Here are five tips for social entrepreneurs to do good in their communities and be profitable in the process.
1. Be Transparent and Have Measurable Impact
Companies should be transparent with their customers and show they actually give back with a measurable impact. Certifications like B Corp and Fair Trade can attest that your products and services meet specific standards. You also should conduct regular internal assessments and reports to measure impact and track progress.
2. Learn About Sustainable Materials and Standards
Jefferson courses, like sustainable textiles and principles of sustainable design, offer an in-depth understanding about creating a sustainable supply chain in textiles and architecture. Learn about reusable materials, the Higgs Index, natural dyes and other concepts in your design process and products. For example, with Namaste NYC, we use 100% natural fabrics like silk and cotton, which are naturally dyed and hand block printed.
3. Relationship Building and Communication
Namaste NYC works at a grassroots level with developing communities in the villages of India. Understand your area’s needs, situations and challenges to better serve them. Jefferson’s MBA negotiations and communications class will help you learn about the relationship-building process and improve your negotiation skills.
4. Collaboration Is Key
Don’t march alone. Working with a diverse set of people helps bring together a variety of ideas and lets you cater to a wider audience. Namaste NYC partners with Indian nonprofits that focus on women empowerment and sustainable rural development through crafts and embroideries. At Jefferson, our transdisciplinary, collaborative Nexus Learning approach allows students to create innovative solutions.
5. Learn from Others
Understanding customers’ needs and offering a solution is important to make a profit, but social entrepreneurs often struggle to stay in the black. Have mentors who can guide you along the way. Jefferson regularly features lectures and events to help students gain real-life perspectives of the industry and create sustainable business models and solutions. For instance, the Top Ram Business Idea Competition on Dec. 9 is a platform for students to pitch their concepts and get valuable feedback from the judges. Registration is now open.
Global fashion enterprise alumna Ritu Jadwani M’19 is the program manager for sustainability and retail initiatives at Jefferson’s Blackstone LaunchPad Entrepreneurship Center. She recently presented on social entrepreneurship at the Clinton Global Initiative University Alumni Celebration in New York City.