Takeaways from the Social Enterprises Series 2013 @ Columbia University


I had the pleasure of participating on the panel of Retail for Good @ Columbia University on Saturday.  My fellow panelists were Sarika Bansal (Independent Journalist), Genny Cortinovis (Founder of Dipped and Dyed), and Joellen Nicholson (Founder of basik 855).  Below are a few of my takeaways from our discussion:

  • The Buy 1, Get 1 model has many flaws, but at least it has ushered in a wave of individuals that are thinking more critically about their spending habits and, via the backlash against TOMS, the complexity of international development
  • Social enterprise is on the fringe of a wider private sector shift toward stakeholder engagement, sustainability and social impact
  • The difference between social enterprises and socially-focused (or responsible) businesses is that the former have a clear social mission (theory of change) and have honed every aspect of their business model around it
  • Retailers must balance customer needs/preferences with the desire to showcase cultural designs from producing countries; Genny and Joellen often collaborated with their producers by sending basic designs and allowing producers to recommend alterations
  • Concisely pitching the social impact of a good is challenging; people have a short attention span and little desire to explore complex social impact propositions
  • Each panelist had a different take on how they market their social story vs. the key qualities of their product; all agreed, however, that the social story cannot be the only value proposition
  • Social impact is usually initially constrained by the need to reach break-even and prove the retail concept; Genny and Joellen indicated a desire to do more, but were still in the process of strengthening their business
  • Retailers sourcing products from developing countries often overlook the potential of local markets; Saskia de Knegt of WOO, an audience member, noted that many of her initiative’s strongest sales prospects were with the emerging middle class in countries/regions where she sources her production

A big thanks to Beatrice Di Francesco and the whole SEADS team for organizing these events!


~ by responsiblenomad on February 5, 2013.

One Response to “Takeaways from the Social Enterprises Series 2013 @ Columbia University”

  1. […] I could have shown this video during my panel discussion at Columbia University on the one-for-one […]

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