Social Business Basics

Innovation and Impact: Taking Your Organization 10x: Lessons from the Indian Approach to CSR



The Sustainability Platform team, in partnership with PeoplePro Trainers and Consultants, held the first of what is shaping out to be a series of workshops on how to take your impact 10x. While we have done the same workshop around the world, this is the first time we did in front of an audience of Indian CSR practitioners. Here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way:

The Challenges Are Global, The Solutions Are Local

Wherever in the world you work, if you are an impact-driven organization looking to create change in the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) markets, chances are you will come across a similar set of challenges. Lack of trust, an inadequate infrastructure, high barriers to entry and lack of relevant policies often times hinder the CSR efforts. While these challenges are global, the most successful initiatives are the ones that focus on local solutions. This includes building long-term relationships with the communities; hand in hand cooperation with government bodies and a “long game” approach to impact. That might mean the shared value will take longer to be created, but the solid foundation will increase the impact 10x.

Creating an Ecosystem is a Priority

The key to sustainable social change is creating an ecosystem involving all the relevant players. This includes academia, public and private sectors, beneficiaries and non-governmental organizations. A dialogue between all the stakeholders is necessary to ensure no backtracking is happening and proper strategies are in place. Lack of communication and the exchange of ideas is an issue in many parts of the world and have severe effects of the end beneficiary and as such need to be addressed as soon as possible. Indian CSR practitioners are very open to collaboration, and proper channels need to be in place to facilitate the conversation.

Funding Remains an Issue

The Sustainability Platform firmly believes that the future of CSR budgets is impact investing. Many NGO and social enterprise managers bring up a lack of corporate funding as one of the biggest obstacles in reaching their end goal and scaling their operations. On the flip side, many CSR managers do not know how to deploy their funds to ensure maximum impact. That gap can easily be bridged if we start looking at CSR programs as impact funds that are aligned with the overall strategy of the company. The global case studies prove this to be a viable concept and hopefully we will be seeing a lot more of this approach in the Indian (and Middle Eastern) markets.

Don’t Do Things for Free

The CSR team has a great program or a product that the BOP market really needs and they are very excited about it until they realize no one from the community has signed up for it or seems to be interested in it. Their first response is to start adding on perks, from a free meal and transport to employment possibilities. And yet, the results seem to be really low. It has been proven over and over again that, in order to ensure your customer takes your service seriously, there needs to be cost attached to it. From malaria nets in Sub-Saharan Africa to vocational trainings in India, the most successful strategies are the ones that empower the beneficiaries to make the choice by paying for it. This psychological trick works in all cultures and markets, the only thing to be mindful of is finding the right pricing strategy. That way you ensure commitment and instill a sense of pride.


To know more about our executive workshop series contact us at

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Coming Up: Making Every Business a Social Business


Join us on May 3rd at AstroLabs for a free session on how to make every business a social business!

Sign up here:


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The Introduction to Social Business: Making every Business a Social Business is designed for non-social entrepreneurs looking to create impact through their businesses.

Over the course of 90 minutes the facilitators will cover the teachings and basic principles of social businesses, using real world examples of highly impactful businesses.

This workshop is aimed at startups in all fields, entrepreneurs at all stages and anyone curious about the best practices in the social impact world.

Watch your STEP & Top Tech companies to watch out for in MENA


Written by Aya Sadder - Expecting to grow to 8,000 people in 2017, Ray Dargham – Founder of STEP Group, announced as he welcomed 4,000+ through the doors at Dubai International Marine Club this April. With the wave of startups, speakers, incubators, angels and VC’s exhibiting at STEP, the crowd seemed to want more. It’s a good thing there’s still 2017.

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While most of the startups have come to exhibit their hard work over the course of weeks, months and some even a few years, and yet expectations are as high as the cost of the tickets and every minute echoes the sound of excitement, mixed with fear, sweat and competition. Albeit all of this, there was still one big discussion that was on the tongue of all the startups: the need for funding. VC’s like LEAP Ventures & MEVP among others took to the stage pieces of advice that would help startups remain successful in a highly condensed market like the UAE. Tena Pick, Head of Advisory at VentureFin, stated that “a good business idea comes from a desire to change the status quo as opposed to starting a business as a means to gain purely financial profit.” Among the startups at STEP this year, I have listed a few below that are bringing that innovation and creativity to the table.

“If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” – Warren Buffet.

Entrepreneur Middle East‘s Editor-in-chief, Fida Chaaban, moderated the opening panel at STEP 2016 to begin the discussion around the investment opportunities that are investable and why? Ms. Hala Fadel, Co-Founder at LEAP Ventures, responded with figures: “we should be investing at least 0.3% of the overall GDP capital injected into the UAE economy which is about 1.2 billion USD in funding.” Although she is correct to look at global best practices that have played out successfully; in this region,  if we are to do it correctly, we need to have the right infrastructure in place that allows for more failures and testing in the marketplace before we can drop in a much more serious amount of capital. We need a lot more funding support from the government in STEM & Fintech as the future shines bright for these industries.


Here are some of the startups that are moving the needle forward in the technology space in the MENA region:

1) Vybz: The latest and greatest in the entertainment technology space right now. Vybz is a musical social network bridging the gap between established artists, up & coming musicians and fans.

2) Need a shiny place in a fancy city like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Doha? Justmop gets the job done. They are an online on-demand marketplace for booking cleaners to help you keep your most precious resource, your time.

3) IRIS Solutions: One of the most innovative and latest technology solutions to autism. The Sensory Box created by IRIS Solutions is a cutting-edge & affordable approach to create a rehabilitation-friendly and safe environment – mostly but not only – for households with children who are affected by developmental disorders.

4) Bridg: On a mission to spread Fintech to masses and let people know they hear them when it comes to the pain of dealing with their banks.

5) Magnitt: A portal that helps and supports startups from concept exploration to launch and growth. All you have to do is join their platform to connect with Investors, Mentors and Potential Partners!

6) Gruptrip: No more forgetting who owes what, forgetting to share the photos, worrying what the itinerary is going to look like. With Gruptrip, everybody gets to see what’s going on through a click of a button. Available both on the app store and play store.

7) Higher Education: Education is the backbone of a society. And Higher Education provides a one stop destination to find out about all universities, colleges, higher education service providers and courses on offer in the United Arab Emirates.

Supporting Startups In Gaza: A Mentor’s Experience In Palestine

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Written by Tena Pick

Originally published at Entrepreneur Magazine Middle East on March 2nd 2016

If one were to create a list of startup epicenters in the Middle East, chances are Gaza would be overlooked. That would be a grave mistake though- one that many players in the ecosystem have been making. Since the day I found out I was to join Gaza Sky Geeks as a mentor, I was met with confusion and the same question: “But why? Why are you going to Gaza, when there can’t be any entrepreneurs there? Why are you going to Gaza, when the situation there makes it impossible for startups to thrive?” And now I can reply to these queries with first-hand experience: while the situation in Gaza is difficult (to say the least) after the ten-year embargo, people were wrong about almost everything else.

Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), Gaza’s first and only startup accelerator, is run by the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps. It focuses not only on the startups in the program, but also on building an ecosystem in Gaza. In its current intake, there are ten businesses, ranging from educational services to wearable technology. GSG supports female entrepreneurs as well, through a series of specially designed events and workshops that answer the specific needs of female startup owners.

I have been following the work of GSG with great interest and had filled out their online application out of curiosity. After a Skype interview and a bit of logistical emails, we agreed on my dates and on the scope of work I was expected to do in the three days on the ground with the GSG team. My focus was on scaling to MENA, crowdfunding and female leadership, as well as offering ad hoc support for the teams in GSG.

The biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Gaza are not so different from entrepreneurs all over the world: how to penetrate new market segments, how to raise funds and allocate them efficiently, how to structure the business so it can grow and take on additional pressures. What is different is the drive that the entrepreneurs have: for them, it really does come down to do or die. The energy, the passion and the dedication I have witnessed in the offices of GSG cannot be compared to anything outside of Silicon Valley.

Some of the businesses have already received their first round of funding, such as Maktabi, the Airbnb for office spaces, which is doing their pilot soon in Beirut. Other notable businesses are Walk’n’Charge, a wireless device that generates energy through simple movement and can charge your device anytime, anywhere, Baskalet, a mobile game developer, and Mockapp, the InvisionApp for the Arab world.

The team behind GSG, led by Iliana Montauk, reflects the ethos of GSG: hard work plus relentless passion equals success. Everyone I worked with had been nothing but welcoming and supportive, pushing both the entrepreneurs and the mentors to do their absolute best. They are driven by a vision of a tomorrow, in which Gaza’s youth are using their skills and expertise to advance not just their own lives, but also the entire region. On top of that, they were deeply engaged throughout all mentoring sessions and had an infinite appetite for new ideas.

One of the greatest pleasures of my line of work is being able to go and explore the startup scene in different parts of the world, supporting them in their growth. Working with Gaza Sky Geeks has been nothing short of inspiring and eye opening. I encourage more and more mentors to look beyond the preconceived ideas of what Gaza is and isn’t, and go be part of the next big wave of MENA entrepreneurship.


The Sustainability Platform Projects: Rowad al Seyaha

Rowad al Seyaha, an initiative by Khalifa Fund and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority targeted Emirati nationals in an effort to crowd source the new tourist attraction in the Corniche area in Abu Dhabi. The participants, ranging in age and in different places in their careers, went through a six-week program designed to get them to the level where they are confident in their idea and ready to pitch to a panel of high-profile judges.

sultan       996706_792877307483855_3030332658247442596_nThe Sustainability Platform team has developed the content specifically for the Rowad al Seyaha, based on global best practices. The program covered topics such as Marketing and Branding, Sustainable Tourism and Pitching, culminating in a pitching session in front of judges that included Ms. Medea Nocentini, CEO of C3-Consult and Coach for a Cause, Ms. Sallyann della Casa, Founder of Growing Leader Foundation, Mr. Ramzy Ismail, Program Manager at Flat6Labs and SHK Ahmed Al Qassimi, the CIO of VentureFin. The final presentations will take place on February 28th in front of Khalifa Fund and TCA judges and the winning idea will be implemented on the Corniche.

Managing People in Intercultural Teams


This post was originally published in Training Magazine Middle East on December 8th 2015

Written by Tena Pick

One of the biggest challenges faced by many businesses, social and commercial alike, is how to successfully manage employees from different cultural backgrounds. Management studies have focused mostly on managing people from similar age groups and the same ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but with the growing number of international companies and longer work lives, those studies seem outdated. Managers are increasingly faced with three or four generations working together; even the smallest social businesses often boast employees from different countries. That is especially true for the United Arab Emirates, home to over 200 nationalities and almost as many different languages.

Social enterprises are usually started by entrepreneurs who are passionate about a certain cause or a certain area, but that does not necessarily mean they themselves are from that area or that they understand the cultural implications of doing business in that certain way. Many managers go about that problem by hiring people from the local communities, an approach that has its merits, but does not solve the main issue: how do you work with people who are inherently different from you? We have worked with an enterprise that provides Indian women with access to sanitary pads – started by an American white male – and early childhood education providers in East Africa ran by European management. These companies are extremely successful, not in spite of the differences among their staff, but because of them. They have managed to leverage the different points of view and even different sets of values to enrich the work culture of the organization. A lot of times that means one simple thing (and yet, so many managers seem incapable of that particular thing): listening instead of imposing, learning instead of directing.

Good managers know where their own shortcomings are and great managers know how to build teams that fill those gaps. That means hiring people that understand your target market and creating a business that is culturally sensitive and relevant. The internal culture of a social business is directly reflected on the brand image and, ultimately, on the business results themselves. In practical terms, that means creating a safe space in which employees can freely express their personal values and bring different ideas to the table, as well as having clear guidelines on what happens when an employee is disrespectful to fellow employees based on their culture, religion, race, age or gender.

The cultural abundance that comes from working in international teams should be seen as a competitive advantage for the company and an added value for the employees; an opportunity to learn and grow, both on a professional and on a personal level. The business world is becoming more and more integrated in every sense, so instead of focusing on what makes us different and seeing it as an impediment to growth, managers need to focus on what makes us similar and bridge the gaps through dialogue and an atmosphere of respect and openness.

Arab Sustainability Leaders Honored with TAKREEM Awards

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Written by: Elias Jabbe

The 2015 TAKREEM Awards, held in Dubai on November 14, was notable because it shared the inspirational stories of laureates from throughout the Arab world who have led causes involving sustainability. The award ceremony, founded by veteran Lebanese news reporter Ricardo Karam, was held for the sixth time and made its debut in Dubai after being held in Marrakech last year.

Twitter recap:

During a special event that took place as part of the United Arab Emirates Innovation Week, sustainability was described by a CSR specialist as needs such as energy, education as well as clean water and food being provided to all people.

The individuals and organizations honored at TAKREEM Awards have made many contributions to society in order to make the aforementioned ideal situation a reality. The group of winners (which can be found in this article) included exceptional individuals who have created a ripple of change starting in their cities and extending to the wider MENA region.

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One of those winners was Beirut’s Paul Abi Rached. Stepping on stage to receive the TAKREEM award for Environmental Development and Sustainability on behalf of the Lebanon Eco Movement, Abi Rached exemplified how solidarity created change in his country. Though he has been dedicated to furthering the cause of an environmental NGO he created two decades ago (T.E.R.R.E. Liban), he accepted the award while wearing the hat of President of the Lebanon Eco Movement.

The latter exemplifies how there is power in numbers: it is a collective of over 60 environmental associations in Lebanon that have teamed to create and implement successful initiatives like the “Close Naameh Landfill” and “Trash to Cash” campaigns. It has also been engaged in efforts to preserve Lebanon’s spectacular Mediterranean coast so that more generations to come can enjoy it as it is.

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Abi Rached said that the award is an honor and vindication not only for those who want sustainability to be the status quo in his native Lebanon, but also throughout the Arab world. “I think the TAKREEM award offers huge support to the Lebanon Eco Movement, especially as we continue to face dilemmas revolving around the construction of big dams that hurt our environment and waste management issues,” said Abi Rached. “The government prefers means like landfilling and dumping but the Lebanon Eco Movement believes the best solutions are sorting, recycling and composting as well as clean technologies for solid waste management.” He added that going forward the award will help his team “convince decision makers and stakeholders” to go green and “encourage other environmentalists in the Arab world to continue with their mission to create change in their countries.”

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Awarding Activists
The TAKREEM Awards ceremony also served as a platform to recognize individuals in the nonprofit sector who have been steadfast activists for social justice and CSR over the course of decades. Among the three Lifetime Achievement award winners was the late Mamdouha El-Sayed Bobst, a native of Lebanon who passed away in September 2015 and was represented on stage by her husband and children. She made an impact as a longtime philanthropist and advocate for causes like education in the MENA region and in the United States of America.

More information about her life and charitable efforts around the world are available on the American University of Beirut website.

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Another inspiring award-winner who was recognized for her positive impact on society was Dr. Jumana Odeh, who founded the Ramallah-based Palestinian Happy Child Centre. She was recognized for her initiative which provides affordable high quality healthcare for handicapped Palestinian children the Humanitarian and Civic Services award.

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TV interview with Dr. Jumana Odeh on Dubai One

Rounding out honors in this category was the International Contribution to Arab Society award which shows appreciation for impactful initiatives launched by individuals and organizations not originally from the MENA region.

This year’s winner was Save The Children, which was recognized for its efforts to provide education, support and other resources for children who have been impacted by recent conflicts in countries like Yemen and Syria.

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The award was accepted by Save The Children Programme Policy and Quality Director Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, who has been a leader in the international development sector in the Middle East and Africa over the course of two decades.
She reminded everyone of the importance of every single young person needing the opportunity to lead a life with dignity with a timely quote from a legendary humanitarian.

“In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’”

Videos of the winners are available on the TAKREEM Awards YouTube page.
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More info on the author: 

Elias Kamal Jabbe (@Elias213) is a Dubai-based marketer, writer and translator. His portfolio of stories about sustainability and entrepreneurship in the MENA region and other regions of the world can be found here.


Living in a UAE-like new economy…


Written by Alexandre Lemille, Founder of WizeImpact

Like every evening, Mohammad comes back home exhausted but fulfilled. He has interacted with
several entities interested to engage with him from one of his many skills, be it work related or hobby related.
People are now networking with organisations according to what they like doing the most, based on their

When he sits on his couch, switching on his television, he still cannot believe how lucky he is to be able
to access all these hi-tech devices at home given his low income. He signed up for a VIP service contract with the local retailer and was able to choose high-end equipment for his kitchen, living room and computer room. He no longer needs to buy these items, but just has to pay when he switches them on! And guess what, he now makes sure that the 5 kilogram washing machine is full since he will be billed accordingly, reducing his need for water and electricity by a quarter of what he used to consume! Quite an advantage when we know the constraints of providing electricity and water in the Middle East!

Talking about electricity, the local provider also realised that by considering each UAE houses as a micro-energy factory, Mohammad would not only produce energy for his own needs, but he can now resell the extra energy back to the grid, while the electricity provider is making more money by just managing the grid instead of having to heavily invest in large infrastructures!

And there is so much renewable energy available out there for us now that we have the technologies to enjoy
them fully! House roofs are now semi-transparent so that Mohammad could enjoy the sun light during day time. And, oh, by the way, his living and dining rooms are now upstairs while his bedrooms are situated in the shaded floors of the building. Clever! He has access to roof-tiles-as-a-service producing energy from the sun, on top of capturing the wind power and collecting water by promoting the condensation of moisture from hot air, feeding his close loop water tank enough for his daily house needs and those of his direct neighbours. He also has a beautiful vertical garden with vegetables and fruits that he grows for his own food security needs. Thanks to his garden, most of what we used to call food waste such as coffee, is now being reused – for instance to grow beautiful mushrooms. When the production is at the highest, he barters fruits and vegetables in exchange of neighbour’s other services.

For his electronics, shops are now in charge! No longer the burden of having a machine breaking down on a
Friday afternoon. The service economy is set-up in such a way that someone will come before any mechanical
breakdowns occur. His life has become a dream come true since he does have to keep on buying the latest
technology to look good with his family! His VIP agreement allows him to get the best technology of the chosen brands at all times! They either upgrade his devices over-the-air or come and change some modules when available! He saw his 2D television changed to 3D nearly overnight without making one single phone call! The brand representative company made an appointment and changed one block at the back of the TV, et voila! The 3D experience right in his living room! He still remembers his friends’ faces when they enjoyed that movie with so much action going on over their heads… The same goes for his furniture! He accesses them as a service in such a way that his house looks amazing every six months when the decoration changes.

Now he switches off his television. He knows he will be billed at the end of the month for the hour he watched his favourite movie, nothing compared to the price and financial credit burdens he would have had to pay should he had to buy the TV!

He now decides to go out at a friend’s party using one of the available mobility service outside in the street.There are so many of them available since mobility is now considered a function of the economy moving him from point A to point B. He could either choose the zero-emission mobility service vehicle offered free-of-charge by the municipality, since his house food waste helps to feed the car with biofuel, or go for a branded service to impress his friends, or even a car with a chauffeur. Yet the number of cars in the street has diminished by two third since we all understood that shared mobility is a win-win approach for all of us. And guess what, there are few choices of cars with chauffeurs. Why not be tempted to be driven off to town?

Mohammad takes this opportunity to check his smartphone, a smartphone redesigned in the UAE! Indeed, since
the economy is being re-localised, the smartphone might have been developed overseas but once it reaches the UAE, and once it has been accessed by several customers according to their standard of living, it will be dismantled at the end of its useful life in a local remanufacture based in the UAE. New smartphones will be made from old ones, and customised to the UAE market needs since it now makes economic sense: local languages, local workers, and at a price that no longer includes transport costs, or even possibly CO2 emission costs!

The UAE too moved away from the forced obsolescence era. We now manage our market as a stock of flowing
materials, i.e. the value of the economy is in the amount of devices and their components that can now be easily extracted to make new products, in the UAE for the needs of its citizens. Needless to say that we now have a much better understanding of our market value. Everything is part of our stock: for instance houses are classified according to the number of bricks, tiles, wood and metal that could be reused at the end of their useful lifespan. We are no longer dependent upon market fluctuations and external changes that we were not be in control of

Such an economy is not so far out. From Japan, China to Europe, leading companies are now looking at building a restorative economy where waste no longer exist. In nature, there is no such thing as waste, thus the unused resource of one entity should be feeding others as a prime resource. Such approaches to a new economy not only increases production efficiency making more with less, grants access to many new goods that one could not afford before, allows us to grow with the resources that have already been extracted, and regenerates our biosphere so that we have enough food and water for all. And on top of that it reduces our CO2 emissions and creates jobs. The potential for the UAE in net material savings could be huge and could help decrease our dependency from the outside world. In Europe, its potential is evaluated at a minimum of $630 billion of net material savings per year.

This is called a Circular Economy. This is happening now.

Alex Lemille

Follow us! @AlexLemille ; @Wizeimpact

Three Types of Social Enterprise Employees and What to do With Them

In almost every social enterprise that has made it to the hiring stage you will find three basic types of employees: the non for profit sector veteran, the recent college graduate and the “I just want to something meaningful for once” for profit employee. These three types of people do not have a lot in common, except the fact that they truly believe in your cause and are eager to put their skills at your disposal. However, what they want to get out of their social enterprise experience is completely different.

The first kind of social enterprise employee, the non for profit sector veteran, has been in the game for a long time. They have most likely worked for at least one NGO you have heard of and a couple you haven’t. They know their stuff inside and out and they know what is wrong with the system. The good news is they believe social enterprise is the way of fixing the system. The bad news is you have a lot of proving yourself to do. It does not matter how long you as a social entrepreneur have been around, chances are the veteran has been around for a lot longer. They bring invaluable experience to the table combined with the energy and eagerness that only people who have dedicated their lives to creating social change can posses. However, they do not take shortcuts and they will most certainly not work for a company that does. If you are planning on cutting corners, paying yourself more than the market rate, partnering with corrupt companies and governments, do yourself a favor and do not hire a veteran. Even if you, like most social entrepreneurs, do not plan on doing any of the things mentioned above, you still might find the veteran to be the most difficult of your employees. But you know they are worth it.

The recent college graduate is becoming more and more interested in social entrepreneurship as a viable career option. The new breed of MBAs thinks beyond investment banking and trading, at least in the short run. All of the social enterprises I work with report a rise in the number of applications from recent graduates from top business schools. The rule seems to be get them while they’re young. Social enterprises love working with college graduates because of their energy and will to learn. What they lack in on ground experience they make up for in enthusiasm and willingness to work long hours. You might need to invest extra time and money into training but you can be sure you will have an employee that fits your company perfectly. The risk of them leaving after a few years is worth taking- you will have left a mark on their way of thinking they will take with them wherever their career takes them.

Many big consultancies report on an influx of staff that have taken a break from their careers in the for profit sector and went to work for a social enterprise at one point of their career. They report those staff usually have much better communications skills and other soft skills as opposed to those that have never worked in the social enterprise sector. The question is, why did they leave the social enterprise sector and went back into the traditional for profit sector? And why is social enterprise still seen as a career break rather than a career change for some business professionals? I believe the answer lies in the hands of the social entrepreneurs. Social enterprise is a business and needs to be positioned as such. While a lot of social entrepreneurs might lack the business knowledge and skills, hiring recent for profit dropouts can help them polish their business model and manage their businesses more efficiently. The trick is in making them stay long enough and that can only be achieved with a balanced approach to both the social mission and the business side of your enterprise. It is time to move away from the hippy image of social enterprises and establish ourselves as a force to be reckoned with. That is the only way to make people who are willing to accept a lower paycheque in return for making a difference stay.

By Tena Pick