Ellen Martin

Scaling Social Enterprises that Matter

TBOP2017 ⋅ 10:43 ⋅ Filmed May 11, 2017

Calling all social entrepreneurs! If you’re someone who’s working for both profit and purpose, then Ellen Martin is a woman you should listen to. The Co-Founder and COO of SoJo (a company whose mission it is to propel social businesses), Ellen has helped those with big ideas that feed more than just the bottom line in countries around the globe.

Now more than ever is the time to make change happen, she argues, because Millennials are taking the reins and demanding more of their careers and the companies they buy from and work for. In fact, according to a Deloitte survey, almost 90% of Millennial respondents say they “believe that business success should be measured by more than just profit and that businesses must consider the impact that they're having [on] the environment and in their communities.” So if that’s the direction this generation is taking business, what do socially conscious businesses and organizations need to do to make it?

Ellen covers the ingredients social startups need to survive, thrive and scale. If you work for one — or plan to start one of your own — this talk’s for you.

Further Reading

  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
  • TOMS
  • Steve Case
  • AOL


    I'm excited to be here today at The Breakout Project and to talk to you a little bit about scaling social enterprises that matter.

    [00:08] This is obviously something that matters to me as I support social entrepreneurs around the world. I have worked around the worked around the world with organizations and social entrepreneurs that are trying to start businesses that combine purpose and profit.

    [00:27] I'm really excited to see what The Breakout Project is doing, here in Kingston. Not a home town but close to Toronto and it's exciting to see what Canada is doing and trying to get on the global stage.

    [00:41] I wanted to start out by congratulating all of the teams that are here working this week. As you all know, entrepreneurship is a hard but very rewarding path. It takes a lot of courage to start any enterprise, but I would say to start a social enterprise it takes ten times more courage if not, maybe a little bit more. As a social entrepreneur you're choosing to work on some of the most complex and challenging problems facing our society. Often social entrepreneurs are working on issues that are deeply personal to them so there's really high stakes as they're getting started. So, I wanted to congratulate all the teams for taking that first step and putting themselves out here on this stage.

    [01:31] Alot of the speakers today and yesterday, have talked about the four ingredients needed for innovative organizations to scale quickly. Amazing teams, capital, the right connections and awareness. As a social entrepreneur, I believe social entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to bring those ingredients together. This is why we're all here.

    Millennial Mindset & Impact Promise

    [01:57] In 2016, Deloitte ran a survey that said 87% of millennials — of course it was a millennial survey — believe that business success should be measured by more than just profit and that businesses must consider the impact that they're having [on] the environment and in their communities. That's almost 90% of a group that is your potential workforce, your potential customers and that are starting to become your potential investors. And probably are a lot of the people who are contributing online. These people want to work for, buy from and invest in companies that align with their values and who are pursuing both profit and purpose.

    [02:43] So being able to tell a really compelling impact story about the impact you're having and why you're doing it, is incredibly important for being able to attract those four ingredients that we're talking about this week.

    [02:57] When I think about the social entrepreneurs that I know that have scaled, the stories that I know of successful social enterprises and scaling, I think a lot about how leveraging your impact story in order to scale can go really well or really badly. We heard a story earlier of Patagonia (referring to Jeff Johnson keynote) where leveraging your impact story went really well but I wanted to share an example of where that became a challenge.

    TOMS Story

    [03:28] If we think about the story of TOMS shoes and probably lots of people of familiar with TOMS shoes. Canvas shoes. The founder of TOMS started with a really positive intention, a really good intention. True. He was in Argentina, if you you don't know the story, he met an American woman who was running a shoe drive. She sad that kids in even relatively developed countries, like Argentina, doesn't always have shoes which had a negative impact on their lives. maybe they weren't able to go to school, maybe it had health consequences. For the founder of TOMS, that had a real impact on him and he wanted to do something about it. He went home and sometime later he started TOMS. Fast forward several years, TOMS was huge. Shoes in store everywhere. Brand realy well known but they were also in the news and it wasn't for such a good story. It was basically to say, in the news, that the impact story that they'd been telling about their business - the had this one for one business model — for every [pair of shoes] sold one would get donated and have a positive impact on a kid's life in developing country. That was the story that they told. The news basically said, all of that is a lie. In fact, they are not having a positive impact at all. They are causing some negative consequences. Putting shoemakers out of business, flooding the market with low quality free goods. So TOMS put in the work to actually deliver on their impact promise. They made changes to the way that they were doing business. They had build a brand, a customer following, they build a lot of awareness all based on this impact story that turned out they didn't really deliver on it.

    [05:31] I think for social entrepreneurs, like myself and other social entrepreneurs that I've met, this story was just a really clear example of why it's so important that if you're going to build a business, a brand and a following based on an impact promise, you have to be able to make sure that you're delivering on it.

    Know Your North Star

    [05:54] I think as you scale a social enterprise there are these tensions between your profit goals and your impact goals and so as a social entrepreneur and my advice to all social entrepreneurs, is know your north star. What is your north star? Always come come to that as you're scaling.

    [06:13] In the short term, delivering on your impact promise sometimes means saying no to certain opportunities. It sometimes means that you need to step back and re-evaluate your approaches as a like a business. In the long run, like I said, it positions social entrepreneurs — having that strong impact story — positions social entrepreneurs to attract the ingredients for scaling in a way that no other business really can.

    Ingredients for Successful Grow

    [06:39] And so speaking of those four ingredients for scale, I have three of my own to add. Actually, they're not just my own. These three ingredients they all start with a 'P' so they're really easy to remember. They were actually brought together by Steve Case, who is the founders of AOL. He now works with entrepreneurs in the US and he talks a lot about what it takes for 3rd wave entrepreneurs. So entrepreneurs who are in the 3rd wave of technology innovation. They're working in really complex systems like healthcare or education, much like a lot of our Breakout teams are this weekend. He talks about the ingredients that are needed for those entrepreneurs to be successful.

    1. Partnerships

    [07:29] And so, those three ingredients. The first he says is partnerships. As a social entrepreneur you're trying to build businesses that move the needle on really complex issues. Usually, your business is part of an incredibly complex system with lots of legacy institutions - thinking about organizations like government and hospitals and schools - and as a social entrepreneur you need to start identifying the partners you will need around the table down the line. You need to start identifying them today. Even if you don't need to start engaging them directly right away, in many cases these are big slower legacy institutions and so if you wait until you actually need them on your side, you're going to be too late.

    2. Policy

    [08:26] The second ingredient that he talks about and that I've seen with social entrepreneurs is policy. Now I doubt any other speaker is going to talk about policy as an ingredient for their entrepreneurial success or innovation, but my business partner comes from a political background so I have to for her. I also know that almost every social entrepreneur that I've met is 90% entrepreneur and 10% advocate. A Lot of this advocacy comes because they are trying to change systems that have been built to create inequalities. A business can only do so much and they need the policy environment for their business to thrive and scale. So policy is the second 'P' of my extra three ingredients.

    3. Perseverance

    [9:18] And the final one, is perseverance. I think a lot of the teams that we have today, I think it's pretty clear that they have perseverance but this one is really important because entrepreneurs that are working as Steve Case put in in the 3rd wave, or social entrepreneurs who are trying to move the needle on really complex social issues, these aren't things that happen overnight. They can be amplified and intensified like we're doing this week, which is amazing, but they don't happen overnight. Perseverance. Knowing that you're working with a model that people aren't necessarily familiar with, it really takes that perseverance to drive through and make the change that is that north star that you always have to keep coming back to as you scale.

    [10:12] So with those extra three ingredients, I challenge all of the teams to consider what partnerships, what policy do they need to add to their set of ingredients to their ventures a success. Keep demonstrating the perseverance that they have this weekend. And thank you so much for having me tonight. Thanks!

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