During our workshops with entrepreneurs and social innovation practitioners, we help participants design different business models for their initiatives. While working on tools such as the Social Business Model Canvas, we always ask them to define first their “social impact mission”. Truth to be told, defining your mission should be prioritized regardless of the Canvas in itself. But what do we mean with this term? And how does it come handy in business design practices?
Social Impact Mission: what is it?
Let’s save some time here and go straight to the point. A social impact mission (also “impact mission”, or “social mission”.. you choose how to name it) is the reason why your socially-oriented project exists in the first place. A mission is indeed the cause, the positive future change benefitting society that a social enterprise aims to generate. In other words, a description of how the organization intends to make the world a better place.
No matter how you decide to put this concept into words (“mission statement“), defining your mission should always be one of the first steps when building a social business or a social enterprise. Sure, you might have identified a social problem to tackle. But what are the tangible benefits, the positive changes you trying to bring to a certain community? Answering this question will help you properly define a social impact mission.
Let’s make an example: Aravind Eye Care Solution. This company first started in 1976 with a mission in mind: eradicating needless, avoidable blindness throughout India. Only once figured out the specific problem to solve and societal changes to foster, then the founding team designed the intervention needed for the cause. Not the other way around.
From theory to practice
Among the different business design tools we usually use, the Social Business Model Canvas is surely one of our favorites. As a matter of fact, the Canvas is particularly useful while sketching new business ideas and concepts, as it helps you break down a business model into its different core pillars.
When you fill in the Canvas, writing down the social impact mission of your project should always be your initial step. Having clear in mind early on what your ultimate, social goal is will help you and your team get on the same page. From there, it then gets easier to focus on the specific intervention to develop, narrowing down the design process and making it more efficient.
If you have some spare time, check this famous TED Talk by Simon Sinek. What Simon discusses here is that companies should always start with their “why“: only afterwards, they should reflect on “what” they sell and “how” they deliver it.
We believe this framework proves to be particularly true when it comes to social entrepreneurship too. A clearly defined social impact mission is the key “why” of any social enterprise willing to truly generate positive societal change.
So, if you’re starting a new social entrepreneurial project, we recommend digging into our business model design process with an impact mission already in mind. If you haven’t one, well, take your time to find out what your true guiding light is. Without one, the whole process might in fact turn ineffective.