How can your social enterprise succeed in delivering innovation?

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation, in the lead up to their Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. The Narrators explore the art of revealing and communicating ideas and – in Cassie Zhang’s case, the art of connecting employees in social enterprises to each other and to the higher values of social enterprises.

What does it take for social enterprise to succeed? Being a social entrepreneur is much more challenging than being a traditional entrepreneur because they have two, not one, objectives: social and financial objectives, in which social objectives are priorities. People start passionately with innovative ideas hoping the world can be changed, but the fact is, not many of them can succeed. It is a great loss to our world with countless un-resolved social and environmental problems considering the values of these social innovations, and lives that might be changed. I wanted to find support mechanisms to enhance social enterprises’ ability to succeed in delivering social innovation. I found that they have well-managed vision, a clear focus, and not blinded by their passion. They are made of open minded and creative teams. They have a proactive culture which encourages open and honest communication, learning and regular reflections.


During my research I discovered that there is wide range of financial help that social entrepreneurs can draw on, such as grants from foundations and trusts (e.g. Nominet Trust), investments from social investors (e.g. Bridge Ventures) or even funds from other venture philanthropic organisations (e.g. Acumen Fund).The same is true for accessing and developing Know-how and resources. Social entrepreneurs have many options to seek help in the form of Mentoring (e.g. School for Social Entrepreneurs), Accelerator programs (e.g. Wayra UnLtd), Consultancies (e.g. ClearlySo) or with Co-working spaces (e.g. PwC Fire Station) However, I found out that there is a lack of support mechanisms which focus on helping them to procure the right teams and to create an organisational culture that helps deliver social innovation while maintaining the value alignment within the organisation which proved to be crucial for social enterprises as recognised during my theoretical and field research.


Paradoxically, social enterprises allocate little attention to the management of their own people and their culture within. In particular, the importance of internal communication is commonly overlooked, inhibiting the organisation itself to operate successfully. I realised that a process which ensures effective communication needs to be embedded early into organisation, to break assumptions and unlock underlying problems they experience. Creating a practice of open and honest communication and shared knowledge amongst team-members the potential energy of emotions and creativities trapped inside of everyone can be released. By improving each individual’s well being within the organisation, the organisation’s well being is also being looked after. And that is what makes an organisation sustainable.


My research shows that money and know-how are often not the problems that inhibit the success of social enterprises. The big issues are often overlooked basics such as internal communication and a healthy culture that supports your own people, who are the heart of your organisation. It seems that even people that want to help others need some help some time – especially when it comes to communicating with each other.


To learn more about insights on intra-organizational communication, and Cassie’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.