As someone who worked at an award-winning social enterprise, MedWish International, and then helped launch Cleveland’s first and only nonprofit restaurant, EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, I am often consulted on how to successfully launch a social enterprise. Given that EDWINS is one of the hottest players in Cleveland’s flourishing culinary scene, let’s boil it down to determine the five key ingredients necessary to take your idea for a social enterprise from dream to reality.
1. Pragmatism – Every social enterprise starts with a dream and a visionary leader who is able to put aside their ego in order to espouse crazy, innovative ideas. Unfortunately, in my experience, it’s very rare to find someone who can both dream big and execute the strategic steps necessary to make that dream a reality. For various reasons, these just seem to be two different skill sets; in order to visualize that brighter future, the visionary has to overlook all the challenges and hurdles that stand in the way. That’s why I believe strongly that great ventures require partnership between a visionary and a pragmatist. Like Batman needed Robin and Moses needed Aaron, the pragmatic partner can see the necessary steps to progress from A to Z.
2. Product – To be successful, a social enterprise must deliver a product that is both unique and of unquestionably-high quality. There is so much competition out there, having one without the other means your organization is destined for failure. At EDWINS, we have always focused on providing amazing meals, as we know that the restaurant business is incredibly precarious. Along with the idea of social justice present in our mission, we also offer a warm, romantic French atmosphere that is unique to Cleveland. At MedWish, we were the only game in town for the repurposing of surplus medical supplies, so being unique wasn’t difficult; however, our “product” of delivering humanitarian aid required that we tell the stories of our recipients, a Herculean task when you’re talking about working in some of the most under-served areas in the world.
3. Passion, Persistence, and Patience – These are three legs of the same stool, as each of these intangible factors are necessary for balance – and the long haul of making it “big time.” Passion alone isn’t enough: EDWINS took four years to launch, and it took MedWish 17 years to get the right staff in place to take the organization to that proverbial “next level.” In practice, you must demonstrate persistence in pursuing those meetings with funders; then, once in the same room, let your passion shine; and finally, show patience as you educate them on your cause, follow up regularly, and wait for their final decision. Live and breathe these three personality characteristics and you will survive the marathon that is launching a social enterprise.
For aspiring change makers, these five ingredients are critical to your success. Just as there are no shortcuts to delivering a gourmet meal, there are no shortcuts to developing a sustainable, effective organization. Now get cooking!