On June 28th the annual Conversation festival took place in Cesis town in Latvia. During this event, Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia organized a discussion “Is it ok to earn by doing good?”.
The panel of this discussion consisted of 8 specialists – Andrs Hermanis from social enterprise BlindArt, founder of the store Otrā Elpa Elīna Neilande, Miks Celmiņš – founder of the Global Change Ecosystem Make Room, Director of the Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia Liene Reine – Miteva, Elīna Novada – founder of the online market Svaigi.lv, Inga Muižniece – founder of the call centre Sonito, Baiba Blomniece – Jurāne director of education institution Barboleta and Anda Briede – ambassador of social entrepreneurship, representative of children’s centre Kā Mājās. The discussion was moderated by the manager of development projects of social enterprise Riga Brain – Andrejs Kozlovs.
The aim of this discussion was to hear the opinions of the field specialists regarding the development of social entrepreneurship in Latvia, focusing on the business aspect. The conversation started with a thought that Social Entrepreneurship very often has the biggest impact in fields where the state either does not have the resources, capacity or willingness to take action. This is the gap that can be filled with active citizens taking action to solve certain social challenges.
As this discussion was devoted to the question of business and earning with social entrepreneurship, panelists were asked to share their business strategy. Andrs Hermanis from BlindArt stated that their strategy to compete in the market did not differ from any traditional business. By not emphasizing the social aspect of the business, the quality of the product becomes the most important aspect and business driving force. The product attracts the interest of the customer with its design and quality, and only then they learn that it is made by people with severe visual impairments.
Discussion continued with panelists talking about the requirements for creating a sustainable social enterprise. The founder of Svaigi.lv stated that the only way how to survive is to earn money. This statement is true for social enterprises as much as it is true for any regular business. Sustainability and therefore also the ability to solve the social challenges in the long term only becomes possible when the enterprise is able to survive in the market by offering something that customers want. It is not a question of “can I” (as asked in the title of this discussion), it is crucial to earn money in order to survive as a business. Moreover, the members of the panel reasoned that there is a huge difference between social entrepreneurship and a charity. If your aim is to provide a solution to a social issue, you cannot just rely on charities, as they soon run out of resources, that is why the business model is needed – in order to be sustainable and to be able to grow.
The moderator asked members of the panel if, in their opinion, everyone can become a social entrepreneur? The answers were varying. Some said that you have to be crazy enough, as it is a very challenging field. One of the reasons is that the classical entrepreneur looks where to earn, but the social entrepreneur has to look how to solve a certain issue and has to adjust all other business aspects to this solution. Moreover, as stated by the field practitioners, not everyone can become a social entrepreneur because not everyone has the “entrepreneurship gene”. Social entrepreneurship is double-challenging because it does not only require finding a solution to a certain social issue but also finding ways how to earn and grow and not everyone possesses such skills and personal characteristics to become a successful entrepreneur.
Other members of the panel were more optimistic and said – yes, anyone can become a social entrepreneur. Miks Celmiņš from Make Room shared an exciting story – a teenager in India had a problem to charge his smartphone because there was no electricity in his village. His solution to this issue was a bicycle that produced electricity and this device solved this challenge for the whole village. Miks explained that this is a clear example of how anyone can become a social entrepreneur – by simply “owning” a problem and finding a solution for it, instead of complaining.
Whether anyone can become a social entrepreneur or not, the opinions differed, but on one question all the participants of the discussion were on the same page – in social entrepreneurship the business side is as important as in classical entrepreneurship. What is more, all specialists and practitioners agreed that if you want to do good, or if you have a solution for a social issue, you do not need to ask – “can I?”. Taking a bold and courageous action towards your goal is what makes a successful social entrepreneur.