The 100 Social Enterprise Truths

Much discussed, much re-tweeted, and full of 24 carat, crystal-pure verity, here is the full list of the 100 Social Enterprise Truths.

1. Measuring social impact is about improving what you do, not just proving how well it works

2. Choose legal structure after getting clarity on mission, activities, financing, governance

3. It’s not the size of the profit, it’s what you do with it that counts

4. More-than-profit is better than not-for-profit (profit’s not a dirty word)

5. Successful social entrepreneurs build trusted, authentic relationships

6. Social entrepreneurs aren’t individual heroes; they build teams, create networks, mobilise movements

7. Social entrepreneurs can work at community, local, national and international levels

8. If a pound was donated each time a social entrepreneur quoted Gandhi, no-one would need to fundraise

9. Teach too many men to fish and you screw up the entire marine ecosystem and deplete the fish stocks

10. Scale of impact is more important than scale of organisation (or scale of ego)

11. A particular legal structure doesn’t guarantee an organisation won’t be rubbish (or that it will be brilliant)

12. You don’t need an MBA to be a social entrepreneur; you need a JFDI

13. Successful social enterprises have a ‘network mindset’ not an organisational one: focus on the mission

14. All money comes with strings attached; that’s fine as long as you know what they are

15. Social enterprise isn’t a panacea; but it can provide a treatment for some social ills, and help prevent others

16. Social entrepreneurs’ work has a ripple effect: mobilising and inspiring others to get involved

17. There is nothing more tedious than a social enterprise definition debate (apart from two of them…)

18. Not everyone is a changemaker (FAO Bill Drayton)

19. The thing that connects most organisations that have successfully scaled is length of time

20. Social enterprises overestimate what they can achieve in the short-term, and underestimate it in the long-term

21. Organisations are powered by people, and they should be trained, supported and invested in

22. Networking is important for social entrepreneurs: be generous and genuine, and it will be reciprocated

23. Even if you call them a client, an end-user or beneficiary, the customer is still king

24. Social enterprise leaders need to look after themselves; if they burn out, often so does the organisation

25. Populate the organisation with radiators not drains

26. Before you get the right people in the right seats, be sure you’re driving the right bus

27. Enjoy it: it’s not called “earnest-and-worthy-and-dull” enterprise; humour is allowed (& often necessary)

28. All organisations live or die by the quality of what they deliver (at the price they do it)

29. Buy from other social enterprises, and get them in your supply chain: but only if they deliver

30. Underpromise and overdeliver: all too rare in social enterprise

31. A crisis might be a terrible thing to waste; it’s also a terrible thing to cause (#bigsociety)

32. There are more holy grails in social enterprise than in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

33. When talking about asset transfer and finite resources, don’t forget the most important assets + resources are human

34. For ‘niche in the market’, read ‘need in the community’ (and vice versa)

35. Addressing market failure probably won’t have a commercial rate of return

36. Learn by doing, learn from others, learn from failures, keep learning

37. A 3-year government contract is no more sustainable than a 3-year grant

38. Sustainable financing comes through not being over-reliant on any one source of money

39. Optimistic pragmatists and realistic opportunists flourish

40. There a lot of good social enterprise business plans, not many good businesses

41. If the motivation isn’t really there at the start, it certainly won’t be when times get hard

42. Charm and ‘being nice to people’ are enormously underrated

43. Edison was right (1% inspiration, 99% perspiration)

44. The “Facebook for social entrepreneurs” is Facebook

45. Newsflash: your social network for a niche community won’t fund itself by advertising

46. Honesty builds trust builds credibility builds support: ‘calculated candour’ is the way forward

47. Diversifying too early usually means doing lots of things averagely rather than one thing well

48. Don’t scale up before the model’s proven, however much noise & encouragement there is

49. There’s more truth spoken over drinks and meals at a conference than on the stage

50. BigSociety, Social Enterprise, Civil Society, Third Sector: it’s more important what we do than what we call it

51. Believing your own hype is the start of the downward spiral

52. The biggest challenge for spin-outs is not technical but cultural

53. The UK is a pioneer in the field; but first mover advantage also means first mover mistakes

54. If the government created an investment fund for construction, it would be called BuilderBuilders

55. Measuring social impact is where financial reporting was 200 years ago (so don’t beat yourself up)

56. Too many people confuse innovation with novelty; an idea is easier than continuous improvement

57. It is possible to go to a social enterprise conference or seminar every working day of the year

58. There is a difference between having great contacts and actually making use of them

59. Work is needed on better exit strategies for social entrepreneurs (no more ‘life president’ stuff)

60. More than 146,000 new species have been discovered since the first Social Investment Task Force began

61. UK social enterprise debate is too internally-focused: huge amount to learn from international models

62. Mission isn’t about a nice statement: it’s for decision-making, communication & planning

63. Beware the ‘self-styled’ social entrepreneur; normally means it’s more about ‘self’ and ‘style’ [see Melody on the Apprentice]

64. Empowerment means giving power to and equipping with skills, not ‘asking a few questions’

65. You can’t really solve or change much from your desktop #slacktivism

66. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, an attitude, a set of behaviours (so is social entrepreneurship)

67. You can’t teach entrepreneurship, but you can learn it; learn it by doing and from others

68. Look back after you leap, and work out how you might leap differently next time

69. There are many social impact measurement tools, with more in common than they care to admit

70. Social entrepreneurs are often ‘biographical’: powered by a personal injustice or experience

71. The word ‘synergy’ should be outlawed from daily use

72. Risk literacy and risk awareness are where we need to get to (not just risk vs risk aversion)

73. The best CaféDirect coffee is the Machu Picchu: not too strong, but smooth + robust

74. (Social) entrepreneurs are a little bit born and a lot made

75. A group of social entrepreneurs always ultimately revert to gossip

76. Bad partnerships mean muddied thinking, a multitude of meetings, & compromised delivery

77. There are a spectrum of replication options: it’s not ‘open source’ vs ‘command and control’

78. Social enterprise blends outlooks and approaches; so a blended return makes sense

79. Understanding the problem is part of the solution (tackle the causes, not the symptoms)

80. Imperfect action is almost always better than perfect inaction

81. BigSociety is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (apols to Churchill)

82. Financial management matters; you need to know your way round a P&L and cashflow

83. Investors and social entrepreneurs don’t speak different languages, they speak different dialects

84. There are as many social enterprise support agencies & networks as actual social enterprises

85. “Build it + they will come” only works if you build it right (& listen to the people you’re building it for)

86. Social enterprise isn’t an easy option; starting a business never is

87. Finding a good social enterprise web designer is like finding a needle in a haystack

88. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’: with fewer ‘deep’ quotes and more doing

89. If London-Edinburgh trainline was a social enterprise, it would stop outside Newcastle when it ran out of funding

90. Most investors, funders, policymakers to do with this space are in London (it’s not an anti-Northern conspiracy)

91. The dark Divine Chocolate is a bit full on: go for the (lovely) milk / mint / orange / hot chocolate

92. Sectors are diverse + contain multitudes; don’t talk about the public or private sectors (or social enterprise sector) as if they are uniform

93. Survival rate is meant to refer to the business, not the social entrepreneur

94. There is an over-supply of loan finance already, with not enough organisations fit, able or willing to take it

95. Social entrepreneurship isn’t a career, it’s a calling (do something before you take the label)

96. Secretly, most social enterprises are still pursuing the “hope for a sugar daddy or mommy” business model

97. The first social entrepreneur was a Sumerian who started the first library / tax system in 1500 BC

98. Enterprise support agencies are often amongst the most un-enterprising organisations around

99. Despite the cynicism + in-fighting, there are great orgs, great people, real change happening

100. Don’t believe anyone spouting supposed social enterprise truths at you; they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about ;0)

Many thanks to all who’ve provided ideas, inspiration or whose words we have accidentally purloined. And for those who’ve re-tweeted and suggested more.

Please do add any of your own in the comments underneath.

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28 Responses to The 100 Social Enterprise Truths

  1. Karl Wilding says:

    Loved this.

  2. Rik Konings says:

    Social Entrepreneurship will bring the world from awareness to sustainable change and eventualy worldpeace.

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  4. Noel Hatch says:

    Wonder how much of these could (or ought to) also apply to people trying to innovate within complex organisations in civil society and public services as well?

  5. Now, this really made me laugh at loud. First, because there are some very funny things in here (especially loved #9: Teach too many men to fish and you screw up the entire marine ecosystem and deplete the fish stocks) but second because there are so many things in it that are the kind of truths that made me laugh at myself and my own earnestness.

    And a lot of smart and thoughtful information, too.

    Time for a book? Don’t stop now! On to the next 100!

  6. Noel:
    The answer = A lot. Maybe even most. Thanks to the folks who put this list together – great stuff here!

  7. Elizabeth Kronoff says:

    There’s no need to re-invent the wheel when the World Bank, UN and organizations like Oxfam have been working on hybrid light-rail for over a decade now. Learn from their mistakes and build on them, and ignore / scoff at them at your own peril. This sector is hard and unforgiving.

  8. Pingback: TechSangam » Top 15 Social Enterprise Aphorisms

  9. Great exhaustive list. After perusing the list, I curated a Top 15 subset list of my own here:


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  12. ajay bharadwaj says:

    lots of things must be learned from 100s truths . i really want to absorb some in my own life.

  13. Mark McG says:

    Carl Sagan’s “extraordinary claims requires extraodinary evidence” must have an application somewhere here.

    And certainly Alexei Sayle’s “Anyone who uses the word ‘workshop’ who isn’t connected with light engineering is a [completed as required]”

  14. Ashley says:

    Be agnostic in your model, its the ability to make social impact while sustaining your operations that counts.

  15. Thanks for this – made me smile, laugh and think again!
    Some good quips and good hints at how to ‘social enterprise’ well
    I will spread the word!

  16. Pingback: Translated, recorded, reported: recent work « Nick Temple

  17. Flaviano says:

    It works also in Italy… well done!

  18. Pingback: Customer lessons: from Beijing, Pain Quotidien and Calvetica « Nick Temple

  19. Pingback: 100 social enterprise truths | CAOS causes….

  20. Pingback: The 100 Social Enterprise Truths – a ‘reblog’ of sorts « My Pen'll Break Yer Sword

  21. silv3rglee says:

    Thanks for this post! I came across this a while ago, but it’s only now that I have some time at hand to blog about this, well, blog. =)

    It’s a reblog of sorts, with personal comments wherever I had something to say. I’ve linked back to this post, but do let me know if you have an issue with my post.

    Meanwhile, here’s the link to my blog post:

  22. punitjajo says:

    I don’t think we should be combining social service with entrepreneurship. Its a bad bad idea. I don’t mean that entreprenuers should shy away from such projects, just that trying to get a profit out of an act of social service can be a very gruesome task. Why not earn money being a normal entrepreneur and when you have more than you can spend, donate it to a not-for-profit social organization??

  23. Love this list, its brilliant

  24. Pingback: Les 100 vérités sur l'entrepreneuriat social

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  26. Pingback: 100 Social Enterprise Truths | asocialentrepreneursdiary

  27. Pingback: The 100 Social Enterprise Truths – a ‘reblog’ of sorts – silv3rglee

  28. Pingback: Tweet the inspirational quote you want to read in the world | Nick Temple

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