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Four Critical Questions for Social Entrepreneurs

Prerna Srivastava
1st Apr 2009
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Today, as part of my “Strategic Marketing for Public and Nonprofit Organizations” class, we heard from David Dodson, founder of Project Healthy Children. Although his talk was specifically targeted for those interested in leading nonprofit organizations, I found his comments relevant for emerging social entrepreneurs as well.

In particular, he posed four critical questions for those thinking of starting a new venture:

1) Is it (the idea or the organization) sustainable?

2) Is it cost-effective?

3) Is it scalable?

4) Is it measurable?

I thought these were particularly salient points, especially given the impulse to form organizations on the basis of what he called “emotional needs” rather than “market needs.” He placed particular emphasis on the second question, stressing the point that “cost-effective” does not necessarily translate into “cheap,” but rather, implies that the organization is “investment” oriented, whether in the form of human capital, organizational capacity, physical infrastructure, etc. He also emphasized the fourth point, stating that if the outcomes aren’t clearly defined, they cannot be measured, which poses the organization at the risk of “mission creep.”

The final point he made can be encapsulated in the following statement, “I say no to everything that’s not relevant.” He emphasized the importance of not “following the money trail,” and investing time, resources, and effort only in those efforts that are relevant to the organizational mission and vision. He cited examples of having turned down potential partnerships and funding opportunities in favour of maintaining organizational focus, and leveraging the organization’s strengths. On this point, he asked a critical question, “Can we see a future where we can be better than anybody at this?” Obviously, that requires that the organization remain on course, and learn how to say “no.”

Thank you to Professor Marla Felcher for challenging us to think critically about what it means to be effective leaders and marketeers!

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