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5 Tips for Women Starting a Social Purpose Business

Heather_FranzeseThis post was written by guest blogger Heather Franzese, co-founder and executive director of Good World Solutions.

I spoke recently at the Lead On women’s leadership conference in Silicon Valley about how to build a successful social enterprise or social purpose business. The women I spoke with were working on diverse issues from elder care to human rights to breast cancer. But all wanted to achieve the maximum impact with their limited resources.

I’ve pulled together some tips from my experience over the last four years launching a social enterprise that leverages mobile technology to give voice to factory workers and improve their working conditions. No matter what issue you’re trying to tackle, these tips will get you closer to the impact you envision:

  1. Don’t try to do it alone. Assemble a team of advisors on key content areas. In the early days of Labor Link, I used BoardMatch, LinkedIn and my network to find individuals who were passionate about our mission and could advise on areas like talent development, pricing strategy, and ‘mobile for development.’
  2. Start small and iterate. We applied the principles of Lean Startup to Labor Link, starting with a ‘minimum viable product’ that we tested in Peru. Based on that learning and evidence of initial traction, we switched our technology approach from SMS to voice-response before expanding to India and China.
  3. Know yourself and find others who complement you. Going back to #1, build a team that brings diverse strengths to achieving your mission. Our team is using Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 tool to deepen our understanding of what we each do well so we can lean into our strengths.
  4. Place a few unlikely bets. In the beginning, you have nothing to lose so it pays to take chances. I attended a small conference in Switzerland where I was one of only two Americans in attendance, but I happened to sit next to the Head of Ethical Trading for Marks & Spencer. They were one of our first customers and have been a great partner for years.
  5. Once you have traction, focus focus focus! This is the hardest advice to follow. In the beginning, we tested Labor Link across different workplace types – rural farmers, factory workers, and home-based artisans. We found that the factory workers manufacturing our clothing and electronics are eager for their voices to be heard, and companies have an urgent need for real-time data from this workforce. So we put agriculture and artisan sector work on the back burner to dedicate all our energy to improve the lives of factory workers.

Whatever social issue you’re trying to address, take care of yourself. There’s no shame in getting lots of sleep. In fact, it’s coming back in style. You cannot achieving maximum impact if you or your team members are always on the verge of burnout.

A Purpose Economy 100 (PE100) global changemaker, Heather Franzese is the Executive Director of Good World Solutions and has been working for 15 years to improve the lives of vulnerable workers in global supply chains. Her award-winning social enterprise has leveraged mobile technology to give voice to factory workers and real-time data to leading clothing and electronics companies. Since 2010, the organization’s Labor Link platform has reached over 200,000 workers in 16 countries, including China, India, Bangladesh, and Brazil.

Heather brings together industry experience with Columbia Sportswear Company and field experience working with small-scale farmers in West Africa. She sits on Etsy’s Manufacturing Advisory Board and holds a master’s degree in economic development from Harvard Kennedy School.

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Business Innovation Meets Social Transformation at the United Nations

Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one of the sponsors of the Social Innovation Summit (SIS) at the United Nations in New York City this week. The summit connects global leaders in the corporate, investment, government, and nonprofit sectors and helps them collaborate to multiply the positive impact they can make in the world. The agenda includes presentations and discussions on key strategies and best practices for creating social transformation.

Cisco’s approach to creating positive social change has long involved collaboration with our partners and peers. By combining the power of human and technology networks, Cisco multiplies impact and helps accomplish extraordinary things, even under the most difficult circumstances.


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Cisco Partners Recognized as Social Entrepreneurs by Schwab Foundation

Each year the Schwab Foundation presents Social Entrepreneur of the Year awards to people who apply innovative, practical approaches to resolving social and environmental challenges.

Three of the 24 awardees announced on February 15 lead nonprofit organizations that Cisco partners with to promote education and economic empowerment around the world.

These visionary leaders have leveraged our support to continue investing in innovative solutions that create opportunities for underserved populations. In fact, their organizations are so effective that Cisco has approached them to support several of our own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.

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