How to build a successful social enterprise

How to build a successful social enterprise

Start a company because you have a passion for something, not because you want to make money, and then you can succeed.

This is the first lesson we were taught in the entrepreneurship program at McMaster University. I wasn’t too sure how the lesson would apply in reality until last Wednesday, when I heard Bruce Poon Tip’s Entrepreneurship 101 Lived It Lecture about G Adventures, a great example of how having strong social values made a business successful.

Through his own backpacking experiences, Bruce learned about the sustainability problems facing local communities in the travel industry.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme:

“Of each US$100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, only around US$5 actually stays in a developing-country destination’s economy.”

Local communities cannot benefit from tourists who stay in massive resorts. Plus, while tourists have access to the resorts’ pristine beaches, the locals can only take their families to dirty public beaches. This is why local people often get angry with tourists.

Used by permission under Creative Commons licensing: flickr user Austin King
Tourist accessible beach
Used by permission under Creative Commons licensing: flickr user Austin King
“Not the Tourist Beach” by Austin King

Using the happiness business model, Bruce built G Adventures, a sustainable tourism company that also helps solve community problems. The social value associated with their trips are what made G Adventures successful in the market.

G Adventures’ happiness business model

In Peru, for example, the weaving tradition was being lost, which led to a lack of local employment for women in some areas of the country. G Adventures organized a women’s weaving co-operative program to help sustain both the tradition and the community, and made a visit to the co-op a part of their Peru trips. This allowed G Adventures to differentiate themselves without extra cost and set a high barrier for competitors in the same industry. Today G Adventures is the number one travelling company in Peru, with a 32% market share, way ahead of the second-place company, which has only a 9% market share.

Convinced by G Adventures’ viable purpose-driven business model, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) gave G Adventures $1 million to build five tour projects in the world. This is the first time IDB has worked with a private company.

Of course, during his journey, Bruce has met many different kinds of local culture challenges; and he has used many tools, such as social media and branding by culture and values, in order to make G Adventures both sustainable and successful.

Watch the video below to get inspired by Bruce Poon Tip and to learn his tips and tricks on building a social enterprise.

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Forgot to take notes? Here is a sketch note shared by attendee Sacha Chua.

Entrepreneurship 101 by Sacha Chua