Employment is a key driver of the economic development of any country and is considered a crucial measure of economic growth and social development. Generally, the more the economy grows, the more it delivers jobs for its populace. The opposite is true, if the economy stagnates, the unemployment rate worsens.
Namibia is among the countries struggling with a high rate of unemployment. In 2021, the Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation (MHETI) said that there are over 67,000 unemployed graduates in the country. The situation has been made worse by the ongoing global economic crisis that has made it difficult for job seekers in Namibia to secure employment.
With the shrinking job market, many people will be forced to venture into self-employment. But this does not necessarily need to be a bad thing as you have the unique opportunity to decide the kind of impact you want to make in the world and earn a living from it. You can choose the path to becoming an entrepreneur who focuses on creating a more sustainable and equitable future for all. One can also become a purpose-driven entrepreneur and develop solutions to some of society’s pressing problems.
Oftentimes, people start businesses with profit in mind, however, purpose-driven entrepreneurs are motivated not by what they do but rather why they do it. They seek to build businesses without a shelf-life. These are the breed of entrepreneurs who start a business to tackle social and environmental challenges that we face daily and aim to create products that do more good than harm to the world. Purpose driven entrepreneurs put people and the planet before profits. However, that is not to say they don’t run profitable businesses.
A good example of a purposeful business is a company that distributes affordable solar panels to families in informal settlements or in far-flung areas where communities have no access to electricity.
For such a company, its driving vision will be the provision of clean and affordable energy to marginalised communities, which is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 7 which seeks to ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
In 2018, the British Academy published an insightful report titled ‘Principles of Purposeful Business’. The report stresses the need for change which is critical in delivering on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
As the title suggests, the report spells out principles to guide leaders, policymakers and business people towards ‘policies and practices that can release the potential of businesses to profitably solve the problems of people and the planet, and to prevent business from profiting from harm’.
According to the report, there are a number of features that set a purposeful business apart. These include Corporate Law; Regulation; Ownership; Corporate Governance; Monitoring and Evaluation; Corporate Financing and Corporate Investment.
Corporate Law, Regulation, and Ownership relate to the conduct of business owners, shareholders and directors in as far as the realisation of the purpose is concerned. Corporate Governance deals with setting values and parameters to ensure the purpose is met while the Monitoring and Evaluation function concerns itself with evaluating the impact of the company on its workers, communities, governments and the planet at large. Performance tracks how well the business is fulfilling the company purpose and profits vis a vis the resources used to achieve the results.
The Corporate Financing parameter deals with how the company should finance its short-term and long-term investments while the Corporate Investment function deals with how the business handles partnerships with complimentary businesses, non-governmental institutions, and financiers. These are organisations that will go a long way in helping the company realise its vision.
Therefore, if you are looking to start a business, or if you are already in business and wish to align it to practices that benefit people, there are key strategies that you can employ to grow your social enterprise. These include having a well-defined vision/purpose; being truly committed to the vision; building relationships that help drive the vision and tracking your value.
- Clear Vision/Purpose
Where there is no vision, people perish. This is an old proverb that holds true in the world of business. The vision is your North Star, it guides you to your desired goal. A business that lacks a well-defined purpose and vision is more likely to run into a dead end. A vision lays out a pathway to where you want to take your company. It is your competitive differentiator.
The vision should be achievable and meaningful. It should not be vague.
Remember that purpose alone will not bring customers your way. While more and more customers want ethically produced and sustainable products, most will not compromise on quality. As such, ensure the service or product you offer is of ultimate quality.
- Be committed to your vision
Entrepreneurs who are starting out often get ideas and advice from those around them. You have to be clear and transparent about your goals as a business person. Without a clear purpose, you are more likely to be derailed by such advice. A vision allows you to remain focused on your target.
However, this does not mean you are not open to change. You have to be flexible and open your eyes to changing realities.
- Build partnerships
Find strategic and complementary partners who are aligned with your purpose. Partners come with their set targets. As such, they will demand to get value from their investments. If you are not aligned, the partnership can become debilitating.
A good number of entrepreneurs are usually blinded by the promise of cash injection into their businesses. They end up losing control of their business model. Don’t always settle for cash. Look for partners who can offer complementary products or services. An example of this is the story about the entrepreneur selling affordable solar panels to marginalised communities. Such an investor can partner with a telco to ensure that recipients of the solar panels are able to pay for their products in a timely and convenient manner through mobile money.
- Track your impact
As an entrepreneur who wants to make an impact, it is not enough to assess the health of your business based on profit and loss alone. Purposeful entrepreneurs employ additional measures to assess the positive impact their businesses have on society. This is referred to as a social value. This allows the entrepreneur to know how successful they have been in the delivery of their purpose.
Sam Ikela is a county is the country manager of Business Partners International (BPI) Namibia. BPI Namibia is a specialist risk finance company for small and medium – owned businesses, providing finance from NAD 1.5M to 15M