May 28, 2015

From social impact start-up to social impact scale-up


Over the past five years, the quest for highly innovative entrepreneurship solutions to some of the most urgent societal issues has seen a growing interest from policy makers, social investors and even support organisations. Yet, if we look at the overall survival rates of enterprises, less than half of them survive the first five years.

Or how to spread solutions that work in jobless economies

Guest blog post by:Laura Catana, Ashoka’s Program Coordinator “This Works” 

For over 35 years, Ashoka has been looking for social entrepreneurs with a system-change innovative idea and created one of the largest communities of peers, counting more than 3000 Fellows spread across the world.  Analysing the critical search for ideas to tackle the unemployment crisis in Southern Europe, in 2013 we started to look into how we could leverage on this community and database of proven solutions and foster their spread in countries which need them most, avoiding re-inventions and long start-up times and encouraging cross-border collaboration.

Recently, in the framework of THIS WORKS initiative, Ashoka Greecehosted a major event in Athens, gathering seven international social entrepreneurs with tested models tackling unemployment and over 180 local changemakers, business entrepreneurs and social investors interested to share, learn from each other, co-create and adapt the various solutions showcased to the Greek environment.

Together with the Robert Bosch Stiftung, we launched THIS WORKS in the beginning of 2014, selecting over two dozens Ashoka Fellows from different countries whose work have a clear impact on the employment and entrepreneurship opportunities of jobless people. Following a rigorous acceleration program to help them elaborate a scaling strategy, Ashoka is connecting them with local entrepreneurs, social organisations and consultants in Italy, Spain and Greece to ensure a smooth and sustainable landing of these ideas into Southern Europe.

Scaling Impact, Scaling Business

One thing we quickly understood was that social ideas and business ideas do not follow the same incentives and mechanisms. Social entrepreneurs are not driven by financial gains and their main goal is not necessarily to expand their operations by opening a new branch or franchise. Social entrepreneurs aim to make a lasting change in the world and if their lifetime work can be useful to others, they are eager to share it all and even invest their time and extra resources in smart networks of people and organisations united by the same mission. This means that the traditional scaling models focused on organic growth, branches or franchises might have little use when trying to scale impact. To really help an idea travel, social entrepreneurs must liberate the core of their work by finding the key set of principles that govern their work or the methodology that ensure the social impact and then become magnets for local changemakers and supporters.

Take the case of Attila von Unruh, whose work on empowering, de-stigmatizing and supporting insolvent entrepreneurs to have a soft exit, restart their careers and lives and to prevent future bankruptcies has already impacted over 8000 people in Germany, leading him to develop a hybrid model to be able to satisfy the much higher demand. During his trip to Greece for Ashoka’s event, he learned that despite a relatively high rate of entrepreneurial activity (about 15% of the active population), many enterprises are sub-scale and rather unproductive and operate in consumption-driven sectors with a low growth potential. In the current political and economic situation many of them are facing increasing risks of failure. Attila felt an immediate urge to help, but where to start in a country you barely know?

Attila’s presentation raised the interest of consultants from McKinsey Greece and executives from Robert Bosch Greece and together, they started to develop a comprehensive, end-to-end and wide-impact solution fit for Greece, drawing not only from Attila’s model, but also from Danielle Desguess’s BGE, including the provision of start-up and growth support. The team is currently looking for local entrepreneurs, social organisations and investors interested to join these efforts and make a change in the Greek entrepreneurship ecosystem.

More than anything, changemakers in Southern Europe need inspiration and confidence that they can trigger an upward spiral by learning from what works in other countries, partnering up in smart, fluid and cross-sectorial teams of teams and launching powerful solutions to drive systemic change.

Kindly supported by

European Commission

Search the website

Use the following form to search our website