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Role-playing of mentors of social entrepreneurs

Role-playing of mentors of social entrepreneurs

Dimitar Hristov - KISMC

This publication is inspired by my personal participation in a project (i2Sustain) of Knowledge, Innovation, and Strategies Management Club (KISMC), an active member of the Cluster Sofia Knowledge City. The short article is extracted from the Design Thinking for Impact Incubation Toolkit that was developed by me and my colleagues from KISMC and the other European partners in this project.

I hope that our findings in this Toolkit may be useful also for the mentors who are members of the network established at the CSKC Innovation Hub and accelerator.

This is because the design thinking process is a must for all mentors of startups, no matter whether these startups are social or typical business-oriented. In Europe, the interest in social entrepreneurship is strongly driven by the growing recognition of the role social enterprises can play in fostering social inclusion and inclusive growth. The overall goal of the mentioned above project was to maximize the understanding and transfer of knowledge on impact, impact investment, and sustainability to tackle societal and environmental challenges and the focus was on the role of mentors in the early stage of incubation of the social business ideas, using the advantages of the design thinking approach.

It is almost by default clear that social entrepreneurs are usually with a creative mentality and can better take advantage of design thinking in exploring innovation opportunities for achieving impact than the so-called traditional entrepreneurs. They are usually much more engaged and energized in their business projects because they are driven by a social mission and for them, the business project is a tool for the solution of social problems and making an impact. The entrepreneurs desire and can use mentors with skills of design thinking because both parties have a common language to communicate effectively. The design thinking process helps mentors and mentees play together producing higher quality ideas than by being purely analytical or theoretical mentorship.

Thus, among many roles that the mentors of social entrepreneurs can play we identified three leading and dynamic roles:

  • mentoring for impact
  • mentoring for leadership
  • mentoring for growth, strategy, and innovation.

Mentoring for Impact

Planning and measuring the impact and achieving the highest efficiency and effectiveness of a social business focuses on the finding and design of key areas and indicators of this business. This is one of the main tasks of every mentor when he/she starts working with the entrepreneur. Ultimately, impact management is data processing for reviewing evidence, learning, adapting, and improving the activity of the social enterprise. Only data that will ensure the grounds for decision-making in regard to the business canvas fields need to be collected. Mentors can partner with their mentees so mentees can see the bigger picture. Design thinking in the evaluation of the impact provides opportunities for mentors to advise how to look at the available evidence, to see whether the enterprise achieved what they set out to achieve. Mentors can help the entrepreneur to be on track to where its enterprise is trying to reach, to answer the question of whether the recent approach has been as effective and efficient as he/she would like?

The main principles of social impact the mentor should follow by use of the design thinking in the mentorship process are:

  • helping the entrepreneur empathize and test as much as possible options in the social value creation and measure the impact in the key milestones by properly selected KPIs
  • advising the entrepreneur how to balance the economic value and the social impact using the creative thinking methods and games in the feasibility studies
  • collaborating with the entrepreneur in the process of finding impact and designing impact models encouraging different viewpoints
  • prototyping, testing, and applying market mechanisms for social change.:

Mentoring for leadership

One of the main tasks of every mentor is to help the entrepreneurs to scale their social impact, and therefore their business results. This is when at some point they have to multiply the efforts by leading other people and cooperating with many stakeholders. In such a way, communicating, coaching, creating a culture and other key skills begin to take priority over the technical know-how, that is the entrepreneur has. The mentors have to teach the social entrepreneurs how to attract, recruit, grow, manage, motivate and lead others. This is the bottleneck to growth for any start-up and social enterprise in the early stage of growing, moving from a team of co-founders to a team of staff. Since design thinking can be applied to all areas of the business the mentor can use it to transform the way the entrepreneurs think on their leadership role and management skills. It is key for the mentors to emphasize the importance of the leadership style of the mentees in all stages of the business.

So, another principle of one good mentor is to use and teach her/his mentees in a human-centric approach, which can uncover the opportunities that come from the leadership skills in social entrepreneurship. This usually means that the mentees have to be able to:

  • lead mission-driven social ventures;
  • manage organizational change;
  • negotiate for creating shared social value;
  • evaluate the sustainability and impact of their projects.

Mentoring for growth, strategy, and innovation

Any social business, if it is an enterprise unless it is a not-for-profit organization, is actually a business. Businesses survive and thrive from sustainable, profitable growth. Social businesses have a social impact only when they sustain the business, create profit and grow. This can be achieved by strategies for innovative and sustainable business models and revenue streams. Obviously, there are non-profits that are doing well and doing good. And yet, they must grow a sustainable source of funding to create a social impact. Thus, in a sense, money and mission are never totally detached. So, the other main role of mentors of social entrepreneurs is to lead and support their mentees on the path of achieving business growth within an original and pathfinding business strategy. The most important areas, as our experience shows, in which the mentor plays roles as a design thinker are:

  • finding the unique business model innovation for impact;
  • building a sustainable revenue model;
  • scaling up and funding the growth of the business;
  • launching sustainable impact initiatives.

Summarizing the results of the above-mentioned project, the following are some of the most important roles for which mentors need a high level of competencies during the mentoring process:

  • partner for constructive discussion;
  • storyteller - tells stories to inspire mentees;
  • advisor - gives expert advice;
  • knowledge sharer - shares professional knowledge when needed;
  • coach - asks questions that provide new insights;
  • critic - provides constructive criticism and feedback;
  • networker - supports mentees in developing and using networks;
  • door opener - opens doors and provides references;
  • friend - encourages and supports mentees;
  • sponsor - provides mentees with career guidance.

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