This is a guest blog by Servane Mouazan FRSA, founder and Director at OGUNTE, an organisation that helps women social entrepreneurs to make a positive impact on people and planet by enabling them to learn, lead and connect. They do this through: stakeholder connections and introductions; executive coaching; angels training; leadership seminars and award programmes.
RSA Catalyst supported Servane to set up Make a Wave a pre-incubator programme helping women leading social enterprises access angel investor networks and gain financial literacy through a learning and networking programme. Make a Wave was the subject of the first of a series of London Region events aiming to share the learnings of Catalyst-supported ventures with Fellows, helping to scale the work. A twitter account of the event is available at the storify of the event.
Women are not a niche market. They control nearly two-thirds of consumer spending in the world, more than the GDPs of Brazil, Russia, India and China combined (1). Statistics also show that women are more likely to buy environmentally-friendly services and products than men. Yet, despite media attention on women entrepreneurs on one side, and a growing demand for accountability and sustainable business practices on the other, women social entrepreneurs' contribution in the economy is overlooked by policymakers and there's a critical lack of academic research and therefore appropriate support. We only start now to push gendered metrics in impact investment and there is still a lot of work to be done to standardise what already exists.
Ogunte's own research among successful women social leaders globally, shows that the top three barriers to growing social ventures are:
1- "capital punishment"; sustained funding, loans at commercial rates (almost one in four)
2- lack of packaged external support; combination of partnerships, mentoring, supply-chain opportunities and technical assistance (one in five)
3- discrimination and prejudice comes third
We have identified that behind the first barrier identified as poor access to finance lies a lack of financial literacy. In the case of social entrepreneurs, there is confusion about a fast-changing landscape of impact investment and social investment, grant funding and financial products and structures available.
I found today’s event a great space to be able to think. As a one woman show sometimes having that head-space to be able to be inspired and bounce of ideas helps me see where I want to go in ways that maybe by myself I wouldn’t see” – Orode Faka, Infinite Arts&Media
Ogunte’s mission is to tackle these issues, by sharing processes that we've identified among successful women social entrepreneurs and activists. A peer-to-peer approach enables us to share the tools they use to further their cause, how they develop themselves to approach obstacles innovatively, and get results. During the FRSA learning event on March 7th, I shared the insights and learnings of two rounds of Make a Wave, which has been piloted among others with the help of RSA Catalyst.
To support this, I invited UCL professor Dr Tomas Chamorro Premuzic to introduce the Meta Profiling tool to highlight the fact that entrepreneurialism is not an occupation but rather a behaviour and that it is made of different components. We know that building a team is essential when setting up in business as a one-man band quickly shows limitations. Meta is great to measure entrepreneurial talent and abilities, to identify the creative and entrepreneurial potential of people, and also to uncover blindspots in people. As with any other profiling tool it should be used cautiously and with a help of a mentor or a coach, you can start a conversation to establish what you need to do to focus on your strengths and not dwell on what you do less well.
Make a Wave participants learned to recognise and acknowledge what their strengths were and where they needed to find complimentary skills. Participants said they’ve transformed their business model during the programme, and have now a different perspective on their skills and their priorities. Some understood their heart was in campaigning and that the model they had created was never meant to become a commercial one. In other cases, some participants have managed to dissociate the campaigning side of their organisation vs. the business side. That involves different sets of skills, and different focus. For instance, you can campaign for a greater awareness in the long-term damage of non-organic cosmetics whilst selling a range of pure skincare. Behind the scenes, at the start-up phase, you will still need to make a decision about the time you spend educating audiences versus the time spent on the logistics involved in building a profitable skincare business; especially if you are just a team of two with limited resources.
Gaining confidence, improving financial literacy
The groups were quite diverse with a variety of obstacles to overcome, different types of services and products to put to market. Being in the company of pre-revenue businesses, you realise how much you have learnt so far and the amount of knowledge you can share. It also forces you to explain simply what your venture is about and look at it with new eyes. One participant leading a mobile banking technology company reviewed her focus and simplified the offering.
Women are good at forecasting and budgeting. The fact is they are more realistic in their forecasts than their male counterparts. The numbers they put in their plans are what they think they are genuinely going to achieve” - Sally Goodsell, ex-CEO of The FSE Group, and creator of Incito Ventures
A major insight is that most women social entrepreneurs among the two cohorts realised they needed to boost their financial literacy skills. Some of them accepted that although it was not their forte, they needed to be able to have a conversation with their financial manager. Others realised that their business stories were translatable in numbers and that they could use it to start relationships with potential investors. That was a major confidence boost.
One of ours guest speakers, Sally Goodsell, previous CEO of The FSE Group, and creator of Incito Ventures, said "Women are good at forecasting and budgeting. The fact is that women are more realistic in their forecasts than their male counterparts. The numbers they put in their plans are what they think they are genuinely going to achieve." It's true that it doesn't always look impressive when you are on the investor's side. However all investors know that gloating forecasts are rarely achieved!
Getting the most out of board members, mentors and coaches
With investor Ida Beerhalter, participants explored ways to build and manage robust teams, how to go about managing disruptive board members, understand people's drivers to join a social venture, and how to facilitate conversations in order to keep people interested.
Participants said this pre-incubator was a unique opportunity to learn to ask relevant questions and get quick answers. One participant asked how to get investors to look at what their venture with a view to investing it. So we looked at how you could pull together and recruit members to shape an investment circle. We looked at the philanthropy model: the etiquette; how to approach people - or not; the use of intermediaries; when to start relationships with funders and potential investors; and what to disclose and what to keep for later conversations. (Our guest speaker Suzanne Biegel provided useful guidance on accessing Philanthropic Circles.)
Participants also learned about the difference between having a mentor and a mentoring project. At pre-revenue phase, it's important to draw a map of how the venture is likely to operate, and gradually test the business model. There's no point getting a mentor when you are not even sure of what the vision is going to look like. However a coach will be more useful to ask all the essential questions and guide the entrepreneur when they map their learning journey. Once all the working clusters have been established, a mentor can be picked up in specific categories. They will provide specific technical assistance, topical knowledge and relevant connections.
The Make a Wave pre-incubator taught us that we also needed to educate aspiring angel investors. So we created the Activist Angels development programme aimed at people with robust business skills, who want to understand the drivers behind social business. This programme encourages mentors to turn into “Investors” and helps them also understand their own attitude to risk and their decision-making skills. Finally, we are now putting a fund together to invest in the women social entrepreneurs involved in the programme.
To participate in the next Make a Wave round, get in touch with Servane Mouazan FRSA email firstname.lastname@example.org
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst