If anything is certain in 2020, it’s that the world faces no shortage of problems. As we weather waves of covid19; the climate crisis, waste pollution, food insecurity, and financial and social exclusion loom overhead.
These giant crises require equally enormous solutions, and an ambitious vision of a better future.
Today the market is where power lies. Social entrepreneurs are therefore uniquely positioned to create change for the better with disruptive business models that prove its possible to operate with more that profit in mind.
Whilst it is on social entrepreneurs to dream of a better future, time spent dreaming is time not spent doing! It is equally important we start and get our hands dirty building potentially world changing businesses.
At Enviu we see both ‘top-down’ dreaming and ‘bottom-up’ doing as vital steps in building an economy that serves people and planet. Crucially however, we believe that the order in which these are carried out is as important at the steps themselves. Here’s why:
The case for thinking big
So we need to think big, but what does thinking big actually mean?
To us this means starting from the issue. Properly understanding a dysfunctional market or value chain is the first step and makes
two things clear:
- The scale of the solution must match the scale of the problem. Take the oil industry. The innumerable livelihoods, networks and businesses that depend on the extraction, processing and use of oil cannot disappear overnight. Any solution that promises a world free from fossil fuels must offer a replacement, or it’s not a real solution. Our THRUST program doesn’t just
aim for several hydrogen powered vessels, but the big idea of a world free from fossil fuels, built upon the potential of hydrogen. It sees the hydrogen industry at a scale where it can rival oil in terms of jobs provided and infrastructure to be built.
- Where solutions should be placed. With a big idea for an alternative future, we can look objectively at what needs to happen to accomplish it. We take a look at the system, and identify the key levers where solutions are needed in order to achieve our goals. This thinking was what led our Zero Waste Living Lab toward reuse. With plastic production drastically increasing we realized that – although relevant – the system would not change through recycling and clean up. Instead, we chose to aim for reuse solutions that skip the need for single-use plastics entirely, closing the tap on this systemic error, rather than trying to cope with the consequences.
The need to start small, and act now
But there is danger in thinking big. It’s easy to get caught up in dreams of a utopian future. Discussing it from every angle and concluding, what a good idea this is indeed! Doing this is safe, risk free and makes you feel good. However important, dreaming is only useful up to the exact point where it stops you from getting things done. After all, if there is anything you can’t predict it’s the future, and you’ll only really learn once you start doing.
At Enviu we choose to be a pioneer, sticking our neck out and taking the risks to start making things happen. Sure, not everything is perfect first try, and sometimes ideas do fail. But by getting started and staying lean, we can quickly adapt and pivot, learning far faster than if we’d never got started at all!
And yes, that one business model won’t solve everything, but if it could we wouldn’t be thinking big enough anyway. Instead, by building businesses at the key levers of a system we can create the spark that ignites the fire of a better future. Companies that create a direct positive impact with a functional business model have the unique ability to influence and inspire market participants. Showcasing that more sustainable and inclusive models are not just possible, but profitable, scalable models with the potential for wide ranging adoption.
When implemented as part of a big, hairy, ambitious dream these ‘small’ business models keep that dream grounded in reality, showing it is happening here and now, not just on paper.
Why the order matters
Fundamentally changing systems requires combining these two approaches, but the order is crucial.
Many social entrepreneurs and sustainable companies start with the idea for an impactful model. Though this has led to many innovative businesses and positive impact, we believe that without starting from the key drivers of the system and thinking of the big solution, the potential for system level change will always be limited.
Whilst the drive towards a sustainable future will require ever more social entrepreneurs. We need both those working to alleviate the consequences of our malfunctioning systems, and those changing the systems themselves. To create change that is truly fundamental, we believe in building with a systems lens, considering the impact, scalability and potential of business models that address the root of the problem. To all the social entrepreneurs out there, we’re calling on you to build systems level thinking into the core of what you do and create the possibility for wide reaching change.
To see how we’re starting from the issue and building ventures with our head in the clouds and feet on the ground, check out these two articles on our shipping program THRUST and our plastics program Zero Waste Living Lab. They both hold bold, ambitious visions for the future, which they’re working towards in real time with multiple ventures driving their systems towards change.