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CEO Blog 2: Rupees, Dollars, Pounds, Euros – is there a difference?

31 August 2016

Rupees, Dollars, Pounds, Euros – is there a difference? The impact that they have in the lives of millions when used by social entrepreneurs makes all the difference  

I have worn many hats—in one of them as a fundraiser, I have experienced and realised that raising funds is possible only when you are good in raising & rising with friends. It is about aspiring together, believing in each other’s vision, and enabling change that we wish to see.

Last month, at School for Social Entrepreneurs India, we organised a panel discussion on fundraising for social enterprises. The panel had a robust discussion and important lessons emerged for SSE India fellowship participants. As the panel moderator, I was intrigued by the responses I got to my questions and thought of summarizing them as insights for larger audience:

  • Good ≠ Fundable: Not every good idea is fundable. It is important for an entrepreneur to understand the importance of the timing of the enterprise/product to enter the market and find its purpose met. If the idea is good but does not meet the perceived/felt need of customer, it will not be funded. Bringing a solution at the right time is important and for this, being grounded & engaging with the problem & people is a must.

  • Person or the Idea: It is definitely the ‘PERSON’ who passionately engages to make the ‘IDEA’ work. So, person is primary but the idea is equally important, if not more. Donors pay attention to and assess how true is the entrepreneur to the core values of the business & its purpose. This is a big factor in deciding to fund or not. Definitely the passion, persistence and process count at the time of making the decision.

  • Purpose or Profit: There is no question of ‘either’ ‘or’ between purpose and profit. Purpose is the core and the Profit/surplus ensures that the purpose is being continuously served. Sustainability is key decision making factor.

  • Scale-up for Impact: Funders are interested in funding scale-ups to see the impact grow manifold. Social entrepreneurs sometimes change the model to demonstrate sustainability when scaled-up; a strong advice is to change the model only to improve and increase impact – do not change the model to emphasise on returns at the cost of social purpose. Investors funding social enterprises are funding for social impact more than return on investment.

  • ‘Problem’ or ‘Solution’: The question to be asked is ‘Are you married to the problem or to the solution?’ This effectively means that the entrepreneur needs to communicate the problem it is trying to address and provide solution with greater focus and emphasis. Many social entrepreneurs are subsumed by the problem and overlook the importance of the solution to be communicated to the investor/donor. But on the other hand, being solution driven with no attention to the problem would not sustain the business for long. Because sometimes your solution will also change the dimensions of the issue that you are trying to solve which in turn need newer solutions.

  • Donors are Smart: Do your research on the donor before going to present your case to them. You should be intuitive to know what probable questions can be and answer them to the point. Do not overstate or over-commit: the art is to under promise and deliver more than expected. But this does not deter you from dreaming— so dream BIG.

Overall, the panel resonated the approach of SSE India by underlining the importance of investing in the entrepreneur than just the idea. They stressed that one’s passion and persistence are crucial to communicate the cause and raise support. But then, high energy should not be confused with passion. Social Entrepreneurs must be true to their purpose and be grounded at all times to continue to raise support.

On behalf of SSE India, I profusely thank N K Maini – Ex DGM SIDBI; Amitabh Behar – ED, National Foundation of India; Krishna Thacker – Regional Director Asia, Metlife Foundation; Geeta Goel – Director Mission Investing, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation for their time and effort to be part of the panel discussion and sharing their valuable knowledge..

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