Who are the Changemakers that will change the world?

We all have in mind super-successful Social Enterprises like TOMs, Kiva, or Grameen Bank. And although those examples are inspiring, the vast majority of Changemakers are much smaller initiatives.

As belief in the idea and power of social entrepreneurship grows, along with more and more examples to learn from being shared everyday, the interest in purposefully practicing business for good is skyrocketing. More and more individuals are choosing to become social entrepreneurs.

Social Entrepreneurship is the idea that our world needs to change in order to be more sustainable and more fair. It’s also the idea that we cannot afford to wait for politicians and corporations to make this change happen (they are too dependent on the current unfair system anyways). It’s the idea that value-driven individuals can start purpose-driven enterprises that are self-sustaining AND create a positive change (in education, equality, environment, health, and more).

If we want this movement to thrive and actually change the world, each and every initiative is needed. Not just the big TOMs, Kiva & Grameen Bank. But also all the local initiatives worldwide, without which a true change of paradigm is not possible.

So, who are those Changemakers? And most importantly, how can we make sure they ALL sustain their initiative and grow their impact significantly?

These are the questions we (Solène Pignet, founder of Creators for Good, and Danielle Carruthers, founder of theSedge.org) wanted to answer.

In early 2016, we set out on an ambitious goal to gather insight from 1000 Changemakers from around the globe (not just the super-stars of the sector, but the very normal people like you and us too!) in order to better understand where they are today, and what challenges and opportunities they face in taking their impact to the next level.

Having worked closely with aspiring and current social entrepreneurs for the past several years, we have seen the global ecosystem grow and change and adapt to what feels like exponential speed.

What’s missing though, is more real-time data and information about who these Changemakers are, what’s on their mind, and how the broader ecosystem can grow, or catch up, to support them. The goal of the survey was to serve as a beacon that could start identifying the potential gaps and point to where to investigate further.

We haven’t reached the 1000 Changemakers goal yet (and if you are a Changemaker reading this blog post, go ahead and take the survey!), but we wanted to share our preliminary findings, because we have already learned SO MUCH. Plus, so you can help us spread the word about the survey and so we can continue gathering information to get the pulse of the global community of Changemakers 😉

Already we have heard from Changemakers in 52 countries, and one person even identified themselves as a Global Citizen — how cool is that?

TAKEAWAY

Creating ventures for the primary goal of making a positive impact is a global phenomenon.

Ok, so there is geographic diversity, with Changemakers working around the world. We could have guessed that — given that we have lived in Canada, Chile, Turkey and France, and that we work remotely with others from many more countries!

What we wouldn’t have guessed before the early results rolled in, is just how diverse global Changemakers are when it comes to age.

As you can see below, 26% are in their 20’s, and similarly, 27% are in their 40’s. We would have expected to find more Changemakers to be younger, because it’s often assumed that Generation Y is looking for more purpose in their career than their elders. Well, we were wrong!

TAKEAWAY

Changemaking is not just a Generation Y thing.

And that’s a good thing. Social Entrepreneurship is not a generational trend, it is a much more profound change that every individual in the 21st century can be a part of. No one is too young, or too old to make change happen!

The last demographic we looked at was gender. To varying degrees, traditional entrepreneurship skews to the side of more male founders and business owners.

In our findings the majority of respondents were female (56%), with lesser representation from men.

TAKEAWAY

There is more female representation in social entrepreneurship than in traditional entrepreneurship.

To gain a sense of the size and scope of social enterprise represented in the survey, we asked how long their initiative had been running.

Somewhat surprisingly, over half were run part time, or had been running full time for less than 1 year. At first this suggests that the vast majority of Changemakers are in the early stages of their journey. While that is likely the case (especially given results we will talk about next) there is the possibility some social enterprises are more established with founders choosing to keep the project part time. That’s a question that needs more exploration.

Only 7% of respondents were working on a social enterprise full time for more than 5 years. This speaks again to the fact that a social enterprise that has stood the test of time is very much still an exception, not the norm.

TAKEAWAY

The vast majority of Changemakers are in the early stages of their journey.


Now that the stage is set, let’s look at the juicy parts — the top difficulties, challenges and opportunities faced by Changemakers.

Here we wanted to learn more about the commonalities Changemakers share in terms of not just common struggles, but also the common ideas or solutions that they are looking towards for moving their impact forward.

The number 1 challenge faced by Changemakers is feeling overwhelmed

A majority of respondents chose “Feeling overwhelmed >> not knowing how to prioritize what actions to take” as their top entrepreneurial challenge.

15% shared other challenges, such as working in complex economic and social environments, as well as feeling like progress was not fast enough, and lack of in-depth resources — which can also be linked with the feeling of overwhelm.

Top Difficulties Faced

Next up for exploring what issues keep Changemakers up at night was a list of 15 topics we identified as the building blocks for successful social entrepreneurship.

Options ranged from marketing to choosing a legal structure, to hiring a team, and respondents could choose as many as applied to them.

In looking at the top five difficulties, three strong themes emerged.

1. Strategy —

  • Defining a financially sustainable social business model (32%)
  • Launching effectively (15%)

2. Communication —

  • Educating the public about my cause (16%)
  • Marketing to attract (enough) clients (15%)

3. Money —

  • Raising funds (22%)

What was most surprising here was that lack of funding was not the top difficulty faced. By far the top difficulty identified by these Changemakers was defining a financially sustainable social business model (32%). This aligns with the takeaway from earlier showing the majority of Changemakers are in early stages.

Most Popular Best Practices

While one of the goals of the survey was to study the most pressing challenges and difficulties faced by Changemakers, it was also important to us to get a sense of what people are trying to solve their challenges. Where are they turning? What are they doing day in and day out to deal with those challenges and difficulties and move their work forward?

This part of the survey was left open-ended to allow for more varied responses.

Interestingly, four main themes emerged. Here’s a snapshot of some of the best practices that came up:

Workflow

  • Delegate / Build a great team and board
  • Breakdown goals / breakdown vision into smaller goals
  • Focus meetings + brainstorming
  • Do next steps that are accessible
  • Structure workflow to get into a rhythm

Mindset

  • Be content with small steps every day
  • Listen to your intuition
  • Take time for self-care
  • Practice reflection and/or meditation
  • Get comfortable with not being able to do everything
  • It’s a day by day process that you grow into

Validation strategies

  • Pre-sell your offerings (before creating)
  • Test in the market asap
  • Collect feedback; do user testing / beta testing
  • Reduce the size of initial sale and grow from there
  • Understand the customer’s needs, obstacles, and outcomes
  • Being sure to solve a real pain

Engagement

  • Find constructive mentors and advisors
  • Read about experiences of others online
  • Build a network of like-minded people
  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!
  • Work on clear messaging and create ambassadors

(Preliminary) Conclusions

1. Still an emerging trend

Although there are some examples that have been around for ages, the study and purposeful practice of social entrepreneurship is an emerging global trend that is still struggling to take off. As in the case of many emerging fields, those practicing are ahead of those supporting. The ecosystem required to nurture and support Changemakers is playing catch up to demand. This has left Changemakers to largely fend for themselves so far, and of course leaves plenty of opportunity for new service providers, funders, and capacity builders to step up to serve.

2. Finding the right strategy is the biggest hurdle

Finding the right strategy, and going forward without feeling overwhelmed is the most difficult part for the majority of Changemakers. This is most likely what prevents many early-stage initiative to grow into self-sustaining, impactful initiatives.

3. Resourceful but could be overlooking one big solution

It was great to see so many best practices and solutions shared by the respondents. It is evident there is an awareness of the importance of validation (a big driver of landing on the best strategy), mindset, workflow and engaging and collaborating with others. However, peer-to-peer learning was never mentioned as a best practice (people seem to collaborate on their own cause, but not help other grow their initiatives with what they have learned on theirs).

So what could be missing?

Looking back on our own journey’s in social entrepreneurship, we realized that one of the most important factors in our success was surrounding ourselves with our peers working in social change. At that time, given the disconnected global ecosystem and a lack of momentum in each of our cities locally, these peers were certainly not always easy to find, and these relationships took time to build. There was no qualitative-enough ‘network’ to plug into, but organically we found our way.

These relationships were so valuable in providing that extra support we needed to grow. Not just mentors providing advice and a showcase of a social enterprise years more mature; not just a group of like-minded people who shared the same values. Those are valuable elements of course, but having a community that you can share struggles with, learn with, mastermind with, is invaluable!

Walking alongside like-minded entrepreneurs who are ‘in the trenches’ with you helps manage those icky feelings of overwhelm and isolation, or those times when you are absolutely sure “you’re doing it wrong”. Because there is this magical moment when you realize (over and over again) that your peers are experiencing the same questions, the same fears, and the same nagging doubts. They are on the same roller coaster, and it feels so good to know you have a buddy to throw your hands up with!

You gain insight into what’s working, what’s not, and gain (and share) new perspectives and ideas on tackling your business. You help each-other celebrate the wins, big and small, and you cry on each others’ shoulders when a bit of commiseration is needed. PLUS you can split the cost of learning (when one persons find an awesome resource and shares it with others for a fraction of the price).

You realize you aren’t crazy, and that it is possible to keep going, no matter what wild turn that roller coaster takes next – and without you having to reinvent the wheel others have already figured out!

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