When looking at the future, social entrepreneurs often talk about a “systems change” – about a vision for a healthier, happier, more productive and symbiotic world. But what is the difference that will make the difference? When looking into the crystal ball of the future, how can business tip the system in our favour?
Here are 3 tips to help your business succeed in the long-term:
Shift the Focus
What are you focusing on in your business today? The next quarter’s sales figures? Keeping your shareholders happy? Shift your focus to create a long-term strategic vision that encompasses both your bottom line and your long term impact. How can you shift the focus in your market?
Let’s use Education as an example. Many traditional models of improving education focus on getting more students to pass exams. Exams are great, and an important part of education, but not the only part. Instead of creating a programme that helps students pass exams, Mary Gordon created Roots of Empathy. It’s a social enterprise that brings babies into primary school classrooms. The result is that, through the work of a trained facilitator, the students learn to empathise with the baby, and with each other. Studies have proven that this programme dramatically reduces bullying.
An evolving ecosystem of change cannot be self-sustained without equipping the next generation with the skills and tools they will need to enable change in their communities, and to keep up with a fast-moving world. As Mary’s project is enabling, young people must be able to master cognitive empathy as a basic and key skill to become an active participant in an Everyone a Changemaker World.
Successful systems of the future will challenge and change existing behaviours. Think about the ways to win the hearts and minds of your customers, if you want them to change.
Take the example of developing organic produce. You can build the farms, educate the farmers, and produce a quality product. But are customers going to buy it? Do they know why they should? Is it better for your target market to buy organic from abroad, or buy local non-organic produce? Should they be doing urban farming with the support of an organisation like Grow It Yourself? These are difficult questions, so if you want your business model to win in the future help your customers answer them.
Educate your target market about the importance of your product or service. Raise awareness of the problem you are trying to solve. The key is that your market knows why it wants to change and that you have the solution for them.
Think about the System
Find and solve new problems. Where do you sit in the ecosystem of your market? Who are the other players? What are they thinking and talking about? Are you ready to work with them?
Take the example of supermarkets. Supermarkets throw out tonnes of food everyday that has only just passed its sell-by date. A number of great projects have been set up to counter this waste, like Foodcycle, or Rubies in the Rubble. But analysing the food chain from farm to consumer shows that this is not where most waste is happening. Around 20% of the food produced doesn’t reach the supermarket, because it’s not what consumers are looking for. Think bent cucumbers, and unusually shaped carrots. Of what does get to the supermarket, on average only 3% of that stock actually goes to waste. But the biggest percentage is wasted in the consumer’s home. Roughly 30% of the food that consumers buy goes to waste.
Systems of the future won’t be making supermarkets 3% more efficient, they will be changing the behaviour of 30% of the population.
Major challenges lay ahead but by shifting the focus, working on changing behaviours and thinking systemically you could tip the system in your favour.
Words by Richard Brownsdon