Business Models for Social Enterprise: Introduction (Module 1)

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14 members and volunteers of WISE have taken up the challenge of joining PlusAcumen’s online course on business models for social enterprise, either to apply it in WISE or simply to learn. Each week, we will be taking turns to share our reflections from the respective modules. Core Team member Yoke Pean Thye kicks things off with her thoughts from the first module.

What is the course about?

Over four modules, this course provides “an overview of social enterprise models, and the tools to get started launching our own venture to change the world”. For WISE, it is an opportunity to gain more knowledge of business models in order to apply what we learn to the organisation as well as to relevant projects.

Reflections from Week 1: Introduction to Social Enterprise Models

The first module introduced the concept of social enterprise models and the business model canvas. As this was the introductory week, the core reading started by defining key terms such as social enterprise. Usefully, the reading succinctly described a business model as the rationale for how an organisation creates, delivers and captures value (based on Alex Osterwalder). This can be further broken down into nine tools that make up the business model canvas. We will be learning more about these components in the next three modules of the course!

The course also provided a catalogue of social enterprise models that introduced examples of social enterprises by activity (product, service, platform, market) and sector. This allowed us to study in detail the social enterprise models commonly found in the WASH sector. Some of our fellow learners also looked beyond the WASH sector to gain insights! From there we were able to identify potential approaches that WISE could apply to better create, capture and deliver value. For example, Sophia shared that one social enterprise started small with one customer (the founder’s grandmother) and built on word of mouth to have over 1,000 customers in a few years. This was a good reminder for WISE that if we focused on delivering high quality projects that truly benefited the communities and partners we work with, we would naturally attract more supporters.

WISE is not trying to become a ‘pure’ social enterprise because we see the need for WASH interventions that do not generate revenue, such as hygiene promotion. However, we recognise that the ability to incorporate activities that provide additional incomes streams would help us with long term financial sustainability. Enterprise-based solutions also have an important role to play in the WASH sector, and we also incorporate these into our projects (e.g. GWASH!). Therefore, I found the first week very useful in helping me think more about the role of business models in WISE. I’m looking forward to the next modules!

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