Entering the social entrepreneurship sector needs to be far more accessible for talent. The number of established pathways such as Ashoka—which has focused on identifying, selecting, and supporting promising social entrepreneurs since 1980—or spatial opt-in communities such as the Impact Hub network—where social entrepreneurs can collaborate with one another in co-working spaces—need to be broadened. By 2014, Ashoka fellows numbered nearly 3000, and the Impact Hub community included over 7000 members around the world. These and other organizations have made valuable and pioneering contributions to building the field, but their throughput is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed now—additional channels are required for enabling innovators to get started.
The next logical step is to harness the power of the information revolution to remove the barriers to entry that talent currently faces. The business of social entrepreneurship is booming and the world is in need of smart solutions now more than ever before. In order to achieve this, a few significant issues need to be addressed.
One of these is the need to build a much larger pipeline of innovators. Given the multitude and scale of global problems that need solving, greater alignment and coordination needs to occur if future generations are to look back on social entrepreneurship as the game changer for solving social problems in the early twenty-first century. Put another way, we need to make it easier for social enterprises to attain critical mass. But since not every idea works in practice, we also need a lot more people to join the quest. Meeting this need was the motivator at my foundation Impact Pledge behind the creation of Impact Starter, which is being officially launched today. Impact Starter is an online platform, initially focused on Switzerland, which provides new social entrepreneurs convenient access to relevant information that they need to master during the start-up phase, such as which legal form to best choose. The platform also provides budding social entrepreneurs a mechanism to interact with experts and engage in networking with each other via the platform’s LinkedIn connectivity, using a visual representation of user interests called tag cloud to facilitate locating likeminded entrepreneurs for collaboration.
The goal is simple: to boost the movement of talent into the sector by facilitating market entry of entrepreneurs, irrespective of their pre-existing access to networks. “We believe there is a need to find new ways for all talents in the field of social entrepreneurship in Switzerland to become active in a simple and professional way,” said Sibylle Feltrin, Director of AVINA Stiftung (Switzerland), a supporter of Impact Starter. According to Benoît Merkt, Partner at Swiss law firm Lenz & Staehelin, “Having been active in the field for more than a decade, I believe that there still is a gap in legal advice for social entrepreneurs in Switzerland. Impact Starter should lead to significant welfare gains as social enterprises can be established more efficiently and thus professionalization of the social entrepreneurship scene can be accelerated.”
Members of the social entrepreneurship generation are more technologically savvy than the Generation Xers or Baby Boomers that precede them. “With Impact Starter, a remaining gap in the innovation chain can now be closed,” argued Dr Pascale Vonmont, Deputy Director of the Gebert Rüf Stiftung, Switzerland, and another supporter of Impact Starter. These entrepreneurs appear more detached from institutions, as well as more networked with friends than previous generations around the world, regardless of their location and ethnicity. Time will tell whether their contribution to history will be mainly civic, helping to build the strong communities at both the local and global levels now needed, or whether they will be remembered as “Generation Me,” characterized by narcissism and a sense of entitlement, navigating the Titanic closer to the iceberg.
Our goal with Impact Starter is to inform and encourage social entrepreneurs in Switzerland (and around the world) who want to build high-performing ventures to consider how best to translate their socially entrepreneurial ideas into actual ventures that systematically align making profit with the creation of positive social and environmental impact. Albert Einstein famously remarked, “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” We have made great progress with defining the problems facing the world, but we now need to better leverage the information revolution so we can actually put more time into getting the job done. Getting talent in and pulling barriers out is first on the agenda, a topic which we will also explore at the upcoming 4th Impact Economy Symposium & Retreat to be held from June 13-15, 2014 at the shores of Lake Constance in Switzerland.
Maximilian Martin, Ph.D. is the founder and global managing director of Impact Economy, an impact investment and strategy firm based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the founder and president of the Impact Pledge Foundation.