Cynthia Hellen Aguilar, a social entrepreneur and U.S speaker during an interview. PHOTO/STEPHEN OTAGE


Social enterprises must make money, says U.S speaker

What you need to know:

Cynthia Hellen Aguilar, a social entrepreneur and U.S speaker met with young Ugandan entrepreneurs during her visit recently and persuaded them to become social entrepreneurs. In sit down interview with Prosper Magazine’s Ismail Musa Ladu at the American Centre in Kampala, the founder and chief executive officer of SMPLCT Lab, a design firm that creates cross-cultural collaboration between communities, designing low-cost solutions for those living on less than $2 (Shs7,509) a day, explained why social entrepreneurship does not mean charity. 

What is social entrepreneurship?
Social entrepreneurship is about business principles whose goal is about serving the community. This means at the end of the day the business must be profitable to solve the social challenge that the community is facing.  You can start a social enterprise business through accessing capital from the bank or relatives or through saving over time with a purpose of starting a social venture – enterprise. 

This is why social enterprise is a typical business venture. One of your immediate audience (market) should be the community for which the social problem you are trying to address. Your family can also help you out. The two – community and family can for starters buy and promote your products as you look to penetrate into other markets. 
Note that the challenges that social entrepreneurship faces as a business are the same with all other businesses/entrepreneurs. 

So where is the difference? 
The difference between business entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs are not that wide. Both have to meet their goal, only that for a social entrepreneur, the goals must address the ultimate goal of the community or indigenous groups that are in need of the social good, and that is why they are the primary customers. So as a social entrepreneur, you serve a specific population and need. That is one of the greatest challenges of social entrepreneurship.
 Importantly, the end goal is to make an impact— a much more authentic, deeper impact on the lives of the less privileged or vulnerable communities. 

Can banks really entertain social entrepreneurs, considering that most of them are SMEs?
One of the strengths of social enterprise is the goal and impact of the business. This helps to distinguish your idea from the rest and set you apart from other businesses. Remember you have a specific community you are concerned about and that makes it easy for you to advertise. Your product will always have an edge because you are dealing with a specific community – whether small or not. 

Compared to another similar product without a specific compass, you as a social entrepreneur are step ahead because your product resonates with community and is aiming at providing social good.  This means you already have a community to support you. 

The community knows you have their best interest at heart and this attracts them to you and your business. With this kind of model, they know that their money is ploughed back to the community once they buy the product. So, your chances of having better business sales are higher because of your business model and the related impact.  Social enterprise builds your brand and distinguishes you as person who cares about the community and the world. 

How do you balance the business without compromising the social aspect of it?
You can adopt a fifty-fifty or forty- sixty approach. There is no one size fit all. It can be hard to juggle but you must stay true to your goals. At the end of the day, you need to make profit, pay bills, employees and run operations. This means you have to make sales. 
Each sale you make helps the social cause you are trying to achieve. So there is only so much one can do when it comes to growing a sustainable social conscious business if you don’t generate profits. 

Packaging, production, distribution – all these chains take money and time. So you must make sure the enterprise is 100 per cent sustainable. Ensure you begin with basics like employing from the community. Then try out recycling as way to help the environment. Slowly you can go deeper and deeper as you decide the nature of sustainability you want to adopt fully. 

Uganda is largely an agricultural country, does this concept apply to her?
Look at it this way: what innovative solution would an agricultural economy need to help farmers get better yields and enhance their production knowledge? Can you help farmers lessen the waste that happens during post harvesting period? It is about providing innovative solutions that can increase yield, reduce wastage or even enhance profit while keeping to the social goals and producing desired impact.   

So what motivates you as a social entrepreneur?
 I have always been passionate about social justice. My upbringing, training and practice shaped my passion, understanding and perspective about the world and in general business, I believe social enterprise can transform economies and our environment for the better. I believe in social good for all and I think together we can all make it happen.  

If a get you correctly, social enterprise is a business like any other, is that so?
Generally, social enterprises are businesses that have the interests of community or the people or even the planet ahead of any other interest. Importantly, the shareholder should be able to buy into this. 

You should be careful not to let the shareholders gain compromise the real cause. Always remember social enterprises are driven by a social or environmental mission or anything that has social benefits and the community cares about it. 

At the back of your mind as a social entrepreneur, don’t ever forget to reinvest some profits into the business. This will ensure that you keep on creating positive social change that you and the community care about.