20 Dec 2023

Why your social enterprise needs a vision

When you’re busy trying to address some of society’s biggest challenges, running a social enterprise in what can’t be denied to be challenging times, it can be all too easy to get swept up in the day to day. But a clear vision of your social mission is vital for social enterprises to stay true to their core values while navigating business challenges. It focuses the organisation’s efforts beyond financial success, and makes sure that everything you do is geared towards achieving specific social or environmental goals, creating a positive impact beyond mere financial success.

To start with you need to clearly articulate the social mission and core values. This serves as the foundation for all decisions and strategies. This doesn’t mean just having a fancy document or some wording on the wall, but a really defined goal of what you want to achieve as a social enterprise and the difference you wish to make to a particular group of people or part of the world. Make sure you periodically reassess the mission to ensure it remains relevant and impactful, asking the communities you serve if it still works for them.

And then ensure that business strategies and operations are in harmony with the social mission. This includes product or service development, marketing, and sales approaches. If you say you believe in reducing carbon emissions, don’t all drive to the office or print every email. Be transparent about how your business activities align with the social mission, with a social impact statement. 

Make sure that the mission is living and breathing. Actively engage with stakeholders, including customers, employees, and the community, to gather feedback and ensure the enterprise is meeting its social objectives. We regularly check in with our production trainees for example, to ensure that they feel that what we are saying aligns with what we are doing. 

If the last few years have taught us anything it’s that we need to be prepared to adapt strategies while keeping the social mission at the forefront. This flexibility is crucial in responding to external challenges without losing sight of the core mission. A social mission often leads to innovative solutions to societal problems, filling gaps left by traditional businesses and governments. A study from Social Enterprise UK at the start of the pandemic found that just 1% of social enterprises expected to close down because of the pandemic, compared with 11% for businesses as a whole.

And of course you need to regularly measure and report on the social impact, using it as a metric for success. If you’re committing to delivering a specific social purpose, you need to show that it’s front and centre of everything you do, and that the actions you take are working towards achieving it. It can be hard to measure, but look at feedback from individuals you’ve supported, conduct research and surveys, and measure objectively the difference you have made. For example for our Rethink Mental Illness production trainee scheme, where a person with lived experience is creating content for their TikTok channel, we surveyed 1000 people to find out the impact of social media on wellbeing, and what they thought of the films, alongside a qualitative panel who fed back in depth thoughts. These will help shape the next few months and ensure the content created is having the best and biggest impact it can.

A clear social mission can build trust and loyalty among customers who share similar values. These credentials can of course help you win more work as organisations look to partner with those who can make a difference. We actively want to work with clients who have an ESG mission, and want to achieve it by diversifying their supply chain. That’s why we’re loud and proud about our goal to change the lives of those affected by poor mental health through high quality training and education. It’s why we want to improve the wellbeing of those from marginalised communities, including the criminal justice system. It’s why we’re a social enterprise, and believe business can be done differently.