(in·sight) [in-sahyt] Noun: the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.
We can only bare the insights of our own truths. We uncover these by throwing ourselves into challenging experiencesand surviving to tell the tale. These are lessons we never forget, especially when they hurt — like when you close down the social enterprise you founded and love. To save others the trouble, and to ease the sting, the best thing we can do is to share these insights and hope they are remembered when needed.
These insights are not just for me and the Milaana team to take forward personally, but to share with all who have aspirations to impact.
1. It is ALL about people, always
Treasure and celebrate all those who support your vision and allow it to become their vision as well. This will expand, challenge and evolve the vision far beyond what you could have imagined whilst building a powerful tribe of like-minded people. People are your greatest asset and the most powerful change agents we have in the world today. It’s our job to empower them. How? By helping them connect with their communities. Helping them to find the causes they care most about and building confidence in the skills they have to contribute. As humans, when we connect, we care. And it is only when we care enough, that we will act to make the changes the world needs.
Thanks to our human focus, whilst the economic entity no longer exists, Milaana’s impact, vision and spirit lives on in all who experienced or were touched by the Milaana community.
2. Live your Impact
Structure your organization so you have to constantly experience what you are working to provide to others. If you are not feeling and witnessing real impact in this process, your probably not impacting others either! By continually experiencing the service and the philosophy you are hoping others will engage with, you can intimately connect with their experience and stay ahead or at least on top of issues that inevitably emerge.
As a youth run organization, we already had an intimate understanding of the student perspective. What we needed was to better understand the organization and supervisor experience. So, over 2 years, we had 65 students in our team in varying roles from casual volunteer ambassadors to marketing and finance hero’s and even state and national team coordinators. We devoted a lot of energy to creating the best possible experiences for our team members, figuring out how to best support them whilst also achieving good outcomes for Milaana. With this experience, we could be confident when advising other organizations and sharing the tools and resources we used to create and manage our own placements. Perhaps you can’t replicate your entire service offering internally, but I’m sure you can bring a lot of the key elements to trial within.
3. A social enterprise is easier to start!
As Simon Sinek said, people don’t care about what you do, it is why you do it. Social Enterprises can NAIL this brief but your ‘why’ needs to ooze through every inch of your organization so you don’t even need to explain it, people can FEEL it. It is incredible how easily people can go beyond their titles and tribe biases to contribute to your vision when it deeply connects with them.
Our vision for social change by empowering students to #dowelldogood permeated every inch of our being and it was infectious. In Milaana’s world Interns are organizational leaders, competitors are inspiring collaborators and supporters are eternal heroes. A whole community became part of our story and invested emotionally in our success. If we were simply another software as service tech startup, we never could have;
- Crowd-funded $15,000+ to pay for the software development of our MVP
- Made even 1/10th of the connections that got us rolling,
- Stood out from the crowd of tech startups (having a female non tech founder also helped!)
- Built an incredible community of change-makers
- Had the opportunity or aspiration to live on through our open source platform.
4. Purpose driven business = good business
IF you can buy enough time to get it cranking (literally buy) .
It’s good business because your operations work to create value not only for your shareholders, but for ALL your stakeholders. By doing this, all in your community will WANT you to succeed and will support you with their loyalty. It simply centers of creating real value and impact. Many of the successful social entrepreneurs I’ve met have said — “Just create something of true value and the money and support will come!”. I jumped for joy upon hearing this. But the caveat is you have to be able to wait it out. Creating, measuring and sharing your value takes time.
For these organizations, after 6 or even 10 years, the recognition and big money properly came. To survive however long this process takes, you need to make sure you either have a model that can self-sustain operations and growth from the outset, or, the connections and ability to raise capital to grow at a pace that shortens this waiting time.
5. Be aware of the fault line beneath your house
All social enterprises are built on the fault line between creating community benefit and profit maximization. Failing to balance these forces, Milaana fell through the gap. But this is not a risk unique to social enterprises.
Every single organization that innovates is constantly fighting to bring together opposing forces, often on many different fronts. How do I know this? Because it is in those gap that the real opportunities, the ones that we love to chase, are hiding. Whatever your fault line is, be aware of it and work hard to balance those forces so they don’t pull you apart.
6. If you really love some(thing) — you set it free
This is even truer for ideas than it is for people. Our community formed around an idea and a vision — empowering our youth to do well AND do good. For us, this means students can gain meaningful experience whilst contributing to organizations that support the vulnerable and work to solve the most the fundamental community issues.
There are many versions of orgs creating opportunities for youth and connecting skilled volunteers to community organisations and this is exciting! The time for these ideas has come with youth empowerment and skilled volunteering two of the biggest trends in socent world. But we were restricting our particular solution to our ultimately inadequate resources. With this restriction no longer in place we can set our solution and our learning’s free by open-sourcing what we have created. The response from like-minded orgs and innovators has been amazing and gives hope that we can actually create even more impact now there is no need to own this impact.
You don’t have to be as extreme as open sourcing EVERYTHING but you must be generous in sharing all that can assist the overall cause if you care deeply about it. You can start by celebrating and supporting all who are working towards your cause. Then, either publicly of through a peer network, share what makes you successful and even more, where you have misjudged and failed. And if you ultimately fail economically, share everything! There’s nothing to lose and everything for the community to gain.
What will Milaana be sharing next?
In the wake of closing down Milaana’s operations, I’ve entered some deep states of reflection and flow (as it turns out 90s rap really helps!). I’ve shared Milaana’s successes and failures, the personal values and overarching narrative grounding both the start and end of Milaana, and an insight into the duality of the social enterprise experience. This process has really helped me to make sense of, and peace with, all that has happened in the amazing rollercoaster of the last 2 years. Through our open source centre I hope to capture and pay forward as much as possible of what was so generously given to Milaana’s vision. These resources are for
- All community organisations wanting to create Impact Placement opportunities for students
- All students wishing to learn about how to #dowelldogood and share their stories
- Organisations similar to Milaana wishing to utilise our code and learn from our operations
- Any students or budding entrepreneurs who want to create their own Milaana platforms in their communities!