Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Part 1/4: A Social Business Plan for Serving the #socent Community: Developing a Commercial Consultancy Practice

The inspiration to serve

The real inspiration for this component of the Evolutionize It business plan came from the amazing group of late stage social entrepreneurs I had the honor to work with when I led the WomenChangeMakers Foundation launch workshop last spring. The purpose of the workshop was to let social entrepreneurs in the field of gender equity inform the newly forming foundation about how they should conceive of a great fellowship support package. We all learned a lot, and my hat goes off to the WomenChangeMakers foundation for how they are incorporating what they learned into the new support programs for social entrepreneurship in gender equity that they are developing.

One of the most intense moments of the workshop came when the participants and I collaboratively coined the term “post-late-stage social entrepreneur,” and started revealing, crying about and discussing what that meant as a condition we all shared. Collectively, these 8 women from around the globe had impacted the lives of over 10 million people. They had all won multiple awards for their work. They were awe inspiring in their abilities to make magic happen in the world, and in their persistent effectiveness for the security and wellbeing of others. At a certain point, they all understood, however, that they all shared a really terrible and serious set of professional and personal weaknesses in the structure of their lives:
  • Not one of them was financially secure.
  • They all knew that they would have to transition away from the projects for which their lives had gained some recognition in the public eye, and yet, not one of them could visualize a plan for what was next for themselves.
  • Those who had ideas about new projects they would like to start were not finding any resources to back them.
And of course, there I was right in that spot they were afraid of finding themselves in. Starting over after having stepped away to allow what I had started in Uganda to continue growing on it's own, and completely dependent on just my own creativity to figure out what was supposed to come next. For me, it was a transformational moment of realization that our experiences represented a critical gap in the social change space that needs to be filled. 

While I will be forever grateful to my delightful WomenChangeMaker friends for being the first to so bravely help me start to see and understand our professional condition, ventures further abroad in the social enterprise sector have confirmed that this condition extends beyond just women who are changemakers, and beyond just social entrepreneurs who are working for gender equity. It’s a sector-wide phenomena among the best social entrepreneurs that we must transition, that we have skills that are extremely valuable to society, but that we find ourselves in need of support in making “what’s next” happen.

Embracing that even the most committed social entrepreneurs must eventually transition out of the primary leadership role in the projects they create in order to rightfully claim the term "sustainable," the primary aim of the commercial consulting practice I am now collecting partners to co-create, is to identify and develop relevant and useful career building opportunities for social entrepreneurs - starting with those who have been vetted and recognized as noteworthy by the growing number of social enterprise support networks and agencies around the world.

The big idea

From 25 years of experience in the international development aid industry and as an occasional consultant in the corporate sector, I am 100% certain that there are many interesting commercial opportunities to source short-term consultancies for governments, corporations and international aid agencies from among experienced & acclaimed social entrepreneurs, on competitively tendered and paid assignments related to:

  • community event facilitation, 
  • stakeholder engagement strategies, 
  • facilitation of community dialogue & decision-making processes, 
  • the use of online communication tools for social change, 
  • project development, assessment & feasibility studies, 
  • proposal writing and specialized text editing
  • innovative approaches to assessing and leveraging the impact of ongoing development projects and programs,
  • etc.

I have some concrete ideas about how to find assignments like this. One of the things I used to do professionally was sell & manage international development consulting services to multilateral and bilateral aid institutions. Lately I have been making some unanticipated but interesting inroads into the world of CSR, which lead me to believe that there could be a broader range of potential clients to explore for the kind of expertise that (especially) late stage social entrepreneurs have to offer.

Who benefits, how?

The opportunity to engage in the kind of short-term consulting assignments I believe we can find will allow social entrepreneurs to:
  • penetrate and influence thinking in diverse sectors of the global economy with their experienced innovator skills and social insights,
  • gain practical experience working together collaboratively
  • take planned breaks from their projects to gain new perspectives on their interests in new contexts 
  • practice leaving others in charge of their projects for short periods, with support from other social entrepreneurs who've done it;
  • earn meaningful personal income with low levels of annual time commitment,
  • invest in developing a personal long-term and global professional value that will outlive their role as leaders of their current projects, and offer some long term financial security.  
Of course, all of that assumes that clients will actually benefit from the expertise that social entrepreneurs have to offer.  To that, all I can say is that personally speaking, through my interactions with Ashoka Fellows and likeminded #socent groups in countries around the world, I have become convinced that social entrepreneurs are among the smartest, most cross-dimensionally thinking people on the planet. I nurture a personal belief that within the minds of our systemic thinking changemakers lies our greatest hope for the future of our global development systems. Enabling ways for talented social entrepreneurs to influence projects and systems beyond their own projects feels like a noble and worthy pursuit. 

A commercial, for profit practice? Oh my!

While this will operate as a commercial practice, Evolutionize It is a non-profit making association, which means that profits are not distributed among owners but are reinvested into mission related activities. The net revenue that Evolutionize It earns thru successfully developing this commercial consulting practice will be reinvested in, for example:
  • creating jobs related to building the practice, including a solid consultancy marketing and global management support structure, 

  • developing a broader range of professional coaching & career development support services for social entrepreneurs,

  • establishing a start-over seed fund for post-late stage social entrepreneurs who have transitioned away from their original structures and are now starting new projects.
Where to now?

Key in making this work will be getting the right people and partnerships on board to help grow it operationally - I’m not talking about starting something that Christina can run from home, but that will take on an organizational form of operations early on.

There are a couple of current and former business partners that I have scheduled discussions with in January to discuss ways we might work together in mutually beneficial ways to get this idea off the ground at an appropriate scale. At least one short term contract for a team of wisdom crowdsourcing experts to be recruited by Evolutionize It is already in late stage negotiations for late 2011.

The development consulting firm I used to work with has also recently been in touch - in a small assignment to review their web copy I livened up the descriptions of their experience with new language from the social change sector, and was inspired to think about how doable it could be to deploy social entrepreneurs on the kinds of EU funded projects that they bid for.

Explorations continue - I should have further news on this component by the end of January.

1 comment:

  1. let's talk, Christina, our plans are converging! isn't it a wonder how life brings the right people together at the right time? then again, one has to seize the day, as they say, and you seem to have done so. Wish you all the success you merit.