Until some years ago, profit was the only indicator of how well a business was operating. However, the global crisis has drastically changed the priorities. Entrepreneurs have started to care in a more practical way about improving the quality of life by designing and promoting innovative solutions. Social entrepreneurship is the most revolutionary solution to a better future for all of us. Our team met with Ms Anna-Liisa Goggs, co-founder of the C3 Initiative, which mobilises business professionals to share their knowledge and experience for a good cause, aimed at delivering a positive impact on society.
Let’s find out more about this amazing initiative, which has been ‘awarded first international SOCIAL ENTERPRISE MARK issued by Social Enterprise Mark CIC, the only global, independent certification authority for social enterprises’ and recognised as ‘a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) PIONEER for outstanding contribution to “Partnerships for the Goals”’ (http://www.wegrowwithc3.com/about/).
Intro question: What is the social innovation ‘C3 Partners and Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3)’ about?
C3 Partners – Executives on Demand (C3P) – www.c3partners.me – is a UAE-based advisory firm providing senior executive support services to businesses needing temporary management solutions. C3P is the advisory arm of Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3) – www.wegrowwithc3.com – which fosters social enterprise in the MENA region through accelerator programmes and skills-based volunteering. C3P re-invests in C3 social impact programmes. Over the past six years, C3 has helped more than 250 entrepreneurs through its flagship programmes and created a community of more than 1000 experts willing to put their skills to good use. C3 was awarded the first international Social Enterprise Mark (UK and international certification) and was recognised as a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Pioneer for its outstanding contribution to Goal 17, ‘Partnerships for the Goals’.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
Medea Nocentini and I started this social innovation because we both strongly believe in social enterprise and we, like others we knew, wanted to find a way to serve our community through putting our skills (and not just our time) to good use.
Over time, we have grown a business from this and become more concrete in our approach to helping other social entrepreneurs. However, we have never strayed far from our original idea and today, even C3 Partners, our advisory arm, includes an element of skills-based volunteering for good.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
We had both come up with virtually the same idea separately. My business partner, Medea Nocentini, was further ahead than me in her thinking and had already started the business (while I was just at the ideation stage). We joined forces, discovered that we worked together in very complementary ways and the business continued to flourish and grow. It is testament to the fact that if you find someone else who has built or is building something similar to your own business, it is short-sighted to view them solely as competitors. Being collaborative can sometimes be the best outcome for each founder and their businesses.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
At the beginning we were afraid of not keeping our large network of skilled volunteers busy and of not providing immediate support to our entrepreneurs. Over time we have realised that there is an art to matching people in this way and we now recognise that the right dynamics between the mentor and mentee must be addressed and that the social entrepreneur must be at the right point of his business journey to receive certain information. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts!
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?)
The business started by inviting budding social entrepreneurs to attend a speed consulting session where senior business professionals offered their time and expertise to the social entrepreneurs who turned up. It was a huge success, with each group asking for more of the same. Pretty soon the business had to formalise the arrangement and plan typical milestones for each entrepreneur through a cohesive programme.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
The quality and value of the advice, skills and connections given to our entrepreneurs has spread by word of mouth and we have never had problems attracting entrepreneurs. However, at the beginning of our journey, the concept of social enterprise was very little known in the GCC and we spent a lot of time raising awareness about social enterprise, its uses, its value and its place in society. This has borne fruit because today social enterprise is very much better understood in the region and as a result, it is easier for social entrepreneurs to do business.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
We put together a Theory of Change, which is what we advise all the entrepreneurs who come through our doors to do! This tool helps to define if your business model is contributing towards achieving the impact you have set out to achieve and if there are changes you will need to make to better achieve it. It allowed us to connect the nuts and bolts of our work to the bigger mission (to help social entrepreneurs in MENA become financially sustainable), and, by specifically measuring and contextualising results and ultimately impact through touchpoints in the journey our entrepreneurs went on, we have been able to refine and redesign our programme several times to better suit the needs of our users. We have always used lean methodologies in both our business planning and in our impact measurement and design. This has helped us create value for our entrepreneurs with very few resources.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
We bootstrapped our business for several years before starting to revenue-generate and now we have our advisory arm, C3 Partners, and the support of HSBC who are powering our C3 Social Impact Accelerator Program this year. The programme provides selected participants with months of one-on-one expert support, culminating in February 2019 in a full week of workshops and networking events in Dubai with impact investors and global expertise on hand. There will be prizes (financial and in kind HSBC support) and for the more advanced companies, they may be able to further their conversations with impact investors started during the event.
I would advise all entrepreneurs considering fundraising to make sure they have a strong financial model, a strong team, get good advice on governance, practise their pitch (a lot) and make sure they do their research on the kind of investor that will suit the needs of their business. Many social entrepreneurs come unstuck if they seek investment from investors who don’t value their social mission.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
We have scaled our business by expanding geographically outside of the UAE and also, as a result of our intermediary role, much of what we do involves partnering and collaborating with others and supporting other similar initiatives. It was one of the reasons why C3 won the UN Sustainable Development Goals Award for the UAE last year. We also consider that the more we help our entrepreneurs to financial sustainability, the more we have deepened our impact. For us, this is scale.
I think it is important for social entrepreneurs to not get too hung up on the idea of scale to the detriment of solving the social problem they set out to address in a real and tangible way. If your idea is a product like solar lamps then, of course, scale is important, but no more important than making sure that the right customers are able to buy the product and proving a clear social benefit at the bottom of the pyramid. If your idea is novel or involves progressive social change, then it may be too early to achieve scale, but by championing that cause and showing that a sustainable business can be created out of a social good, you will lay the groundwork for others to build on what you started or even for legislative or behavioural change to occur.
Boiling this down to one line: try and always balance making money and achieving scale along with creating the impact that you want.
How do you change the whole system?
One day at a time with constant reflection, continuous improvement and enormous tenacity!
What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, who has only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
I have given these (three!) pieces of advice before, but they really do encapsulate what I truly believe, so I apologise in advance if they are repetitive: whatever your idea is, make sure that it solves a social problem by creating systemic change (i.e. creating a new structure or system to solve a problem rather than reconfiguring existing systems). The world doesn’t have time for piecemeal solutions or good/greenwash. Try to create an emotional reaction in those you want to engage with your initiative. If people feel empathetic to what you are doing, they will support it more readily and you may well inspire others to follow in your footsteps. Get all the advice you can and never stop learning. There are always amazing mentors and supporters out there ready to help you along your path or even alter your path if necessary: let them help you!
Interviewed by Kostas Sotiropoulos
Anna-Liisa Goggs [@wegrowwithc3] is Co-Founder and Partner at C3 Partners – Executives on Demand (C3P), a UAE-based advisory firm providing senior executive support services to businesses needing temporary management solutions. C3P is the advisory arm of Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3), which fosters social enterprise in the MENA region. C3P re-invests in C3 social impact programmes.
Anna-Liisa specialises in governance for social entrepreneurs. Her strong links with corporates looking to be involved with skills-based volunteering contributed to C3 winning a 2017 UN Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer Award.
Anna-Liisa has worked with Magic Circle law firms in London, Sao Paulo and Dubai on high-profile deals such as the IPO for DP World. She is currently an acting General Counsel.
Anna-Liisa holds an MBA from the Open University (England). She is a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England & Wales and holds a BA Law with French from the University of Sheffield (England).
LinkedIn: Anna-Liisa Goggs
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