In the run-up to Social Enterprise Futures we asked two legendary social enterprise leaders about the top-tips they would give their younger selves. You can here more from both Sophi and Dai at Social Enterprise Futures, get your tickets and find out more here.

Sophi Tranchell – Former CEO, Divine Chocolate

Sophi Tranchell Social Enterprise Futur

Put your Mission at the heart of everything you do.

It is well worth spending time to articulate your mission.  When you are starting up and running just to keep up, it can feel as if it is a time consuming distraction and you already know what you are doing and why you are doing it. But the process of writing it down can help you to clarify it and quickly it becomes an invaluable asset to recruit and motivate your team and to give everyone clarity about what you are doing and why you are doing it.  It also helps you to remain focused as it enables you all to know what you are not doing.

Once you have articulated your mission and it has been agreed by your stakeholders then you need to find a way to write it into your articles of association so that it can be protected in the future.  It will help you to stop mission drift and if it entails a financial commitment it is particularly important to establish the precedent in the early days when the commitments are relatively small, as once you are up and running and profitable it is more difficult to get everyone to agree to it.  So spending time articulating your mission will enable you to remain focused, recruit and motivate your team, take your stakeholders along on the journey and ultimately run a successful, impactful, social enterprise.

Partnerships are a great way to increase your scale and reach.

One of the great thing about being a social enterprise is that other people really want to see you succeed so partnerships can really help you to increase your scale and reach.  Divine’s partnership with The Co-operative was a great example. In 2002 the Co-operative converted their own label block chocolate to Fairtrade and sourced it all from Divine, it tripled our turnover and gave us time to build the Divine brand, but it was a big risk for them working with such a small provider. They really shared our values, they wanted to grow Fairtrade and support Co-op owned businesses.  This was particularly important when we hit a problem – at one point they hugely over forecast their stock requirement and we had a warehouse full of their stock and all our capital was tied up in it.  When we explained it to them, they changed the term of trade and paid all our invoice on day one until the stock was cleared.  So partnerships are a great way to increase your scale and reach, but you need to pick you partners carefully and make sure they share your values.

Never underestimate the power of a good story. 

In this day and age of data, we are getting much better at demonstrating our impact through figures and companies spend a lot of time and money gathering and presenting those numbers but we should never forget the power of a good story that can engage and inspire people.  Divine was owned by a co-operative of cocoa famers in Ghana, we delivered millions of pounds worth in Fairtrade Premiums and Producer Support programmes for 100,000 farmers.  We could overwhelm people with data to prove how effective we have been but the story of the women who have never tasted chocolate caught people’s attention.  As we all love chocolate it was surprising and even terrible to think that these women who work hard in the equatorial sun to deliver the chocolate that we enjoy so much have never tasted this delicious treat. 

Stories like this stimulate your imagination and curiosity, it makes you want to know more, it can make you think and care about things you had never considered and they can make you change your mind. It is very difficult to do that with data. We are lucky in social enterprise, we have so many inspiring stories to tell so it is well worth investing in crafting those stories and finding new and engaging ways to share them.

Dai Powell – Former CEO, HCT Group

Don’t hire nice people

I don’t mean hire nasty people, if possible hire great people.  The team you surround yourself with is the most critical factor in success.  The team needs to be able to challenge, push back and hold differing opinions.

Many nice people don’t do that, they will support but not challenge, they will agree with you almost without question. The best decisions are ones where the team are involved in the process and own the result. Robust challenge does not mean dissent but does mean decisions can be reviewed and amended. Critically success is a team effort and not an individual effort. 

Invest in impact but like all investments it can go down as well as up!

We work in social enterprises to do good stuff, to challenge traditional business models, to create a better society to tackle injustice in many forms.  Ultimately it is about creating social impact, if we are not creating social impact why are we doing it?

Within social enterprises there is a constant tension between commercial and impact, this is usually a positive tension and runs throughout organisations.  We want to do more good but we have to run a business.

This is why we should accept social impact will go down as well as up.  There will be times in the life of an organisation where the good you do will reduce, and that’s ok.  This might be because of commercial pressure, changes in the political landscape or even societal changes. 

The impact you create will change, as the needs of society change, however the driving force behind social enterprises is that they exist to create a fairer and more just society. 

No is often the starting point of a conversation

This was said to me by a (great) colleague a few years ago. People tell us why we cannot do something, the starting position is ‘no’, but we don’t leave it there.  So often over the years local and central governments, private companies and think tanks have come around to our way of thinking.  Sometimes it takes years, it might take a change of leadership but often it just takes time.

One of the great strengths of social enterprises is that they do things, they don’t just campaign, they prove a different way is possible, they innovate and then are open to sharing that innovation. If you are challenging the status quo you will not always be liked, and that is fine, we are not here to be liked (or nice).  However, if you stick to your principles you will, in time, be respected.  People and organisations will see there is a different and better way to do thing, but it takes time.