Social Entrepreneurship – An interview with Prof. Mariana Christen Jakob

Hello Mariana, you are the founder of SEIF, a Professor in social sciences, and with your background and outstanding experience in the field of social entrepreneurship in Switzerland, you are a great expert to speak to! Many thanks for your time to elaborate on the potential of the Social Impact Accelerator

Can you tell us something about your view of social entrepreneurship and its importance?

15 years ago, nobody talked about social entrepreneurship, not even in the academic landscape, because it was just not in the mind of the people. However, the social impact on society is of great importance. We tend to talk more about elements on the economic side when it comes to entrepreneurship, such as making as much money as possible. Within social innovation there is a complete other angle, namely, positive impact on the planet and society. In my opinion, this is very important. Social entrepreneurship is a great tool to enhance positive impact.

Why is it important to have an entrepreneurial approach for social impact and sustainability?  

When we look at the challenges we face in the context of the SDGs, it is simply impossible to solve all the problems with public money and solutions alone. We also need an entrepreneurial approach where the business model is financially sustainable and thus provides independency to create long-lasting positive impact.  

“Social entrepreneurship is a great tool to enhance positive impact.”

Prof. Mariana Christen Jakob, Founder of SEIF

Can you explain how social entrepreneurs are organised and/or structured?

I often experience a misconception about what social entrepreneurs are and how to differentiate them from NGOs and social workers. Social entrepreneurs are organisations with a business model that serves the social impact. According to the EVPA, there are different profiles of social entrepreneurs: 

  1. The profile where financial profit is as important as impact, one could say ‘for profit, for impact.’ 
  2. The profile based on the Yunus model: social business. Where all profit flows back in the organisation and there are no equities to share with shareholders. 
  3. The not-for-profit structure where the entrepreneurs generate their own revenue but are also partly supported in another way. 

No matter what profile, an entrepreneurial approach for all social entrepreneurs is very important to be financially sustainable and to secure long-lasting positive impact. 

Talking about the last two profiles you mention, where the focus is on maximizing impact instead of a focus on maximising profits and financial surplus, can you tell us something about the situation in Switzerland? Do these profiles exist and is there a support system they can enter?

A lot of these organisations do exist in Switzerland, and they are very important. However, the support system is missing. The current startup ecosystem focusses mainly on the for-profit startups and less on the not-for-profit organisations. Those organisations, especially in the scaling phase, experience a lack of programs to participate in that provide support in impact management and business model related topics. 

That’s why we are so happy to be able to offer the first Social Impact Accelerator in Switzerland, where we specifically invite not-for- profit entrepreneurs and social businesses in the scaling phase to apply! What do you hope for SIA?

It is such a great opportunity to raise awareness about the topic of social entrepreneurship, not only to create an understanding, but also to inspire others and show them that there are different models to create positive impact. I am looking very much forward to interesting solutions and what they want to solve, and to discover new social innovations combined with an entrepreneurial approach. I’m excited to see the SIA program support them in the scaling phase and bring each organisation to a next level!

You are also a valuable member of the SIA expert jury, who will decide on the final selection of participating entrepreneurs. What elements will you emphasize during your assessment?

Firstly, I will have a keen eye on new solutions and the innovation level. Secondly, the impact is very important during the assessment. What is the impact potential and is it at the core of the business model? And last but not least, the team is of great importance, because people are absolutely key!

Are you a Swiss social entrepreneur who fits the profile of a not-for-profit or social business? Do you want to be part of the SIA ecosystem and benefit from the support the program has to offer? Have a look at our website www.socialimpactaccelerator.ch and apply now!