Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

“The force of an idea originates in the essential needs, perceived preferences, and unconscious expectation of the people it is intended to serve.”

- Michael E. Gerber

When I arrived in Nicaragua last year, I was immediately confronted with a situation that has become increasingly common in Latin America: a shrinking aid environment. In response, I turn to the private sector as both a new source of funding and an ally to promote child rights.

After months of trials and errors, a more promising dialogue began to take shape with Mukul, the first luxury boutique hotel in Nicaragua and recently nominated ‘best spa in the world.’ 

To secure this partnership, I considered all different stakeholders involved. I asked myself, ‘What do they want to know?’ ‘What are their concerns?’ I knew that appealing to the traditional ‘do-good-for-children’ discourse wasn’t enough, especially considering the resort already had in place a strong Corporate Social Responsibility program (albeit not working on child rights).

After a long period of reflexion and mapping of the social fabric, I knew that our pitch for this partnership had to be based on a win-win situation. So, we prepared a vision statement based on the idea of a ‘new model of responsible tourism for children,’ where we aimed at creating value not only for children but also for a sustainable tourism sector.  

This vision statement was succinct, exciting and allowed all stakeholders to see the big picture of what the ‘perfect’ outcome would look like. It appealed to the audience’s values by unveiling the common advantages of creating value for children and for the tourism sector. These linkages were made clear by showing the symbiotic relationship between responsible tourism practices and children’s wellbeing, and vice-versa.

The consequences of inaction were also brought up. Showing how pernicious tourism practices could induce child rights violations, bringing increased social problems, getto-i-zation, violence, and environmental degradation to tourism areas, was also a powerful tool. 

In line with the understanding of stakeholders’ concerns and desires, it was important to create a strategy that was both innovative and fitting to the overall sustainability approach that we’re trying to sell with the ‘new model of responsible tourism for children.’ To make this happen, we introduced the element of social entrepreneurship to the table. 

Social entrepreneurship is new for UNICEF. So before going to our partners, I turn to lots of external people for advice (thank you all!). This has allowed us to challenge assumptions, welcome provocative thoughts and envision an ideal outcome. This collaborative process across various disciplines was critical to build the case for this innovation. It was also an opportunity to ‘pre-sell’ the idea.

Soon the Sociopreneur Initiative was created and officially launched on August, 19th 2013, in Managua, Nicaragua. It also marked the beginning of a unique partnership with Mukul.

 “The creative process does end with an idea; it starts with one. Creative ideas are just the first step in a long process of bringing thoughts into reality”

- Alex Osborn

How it works

The Sociopreneur Initiative is about putting social entrepreneurship to create value for children. At the same time, it also creates value for tourism. There are four basic phases:

  • Understanding problems affecting children in that community. 
  • Mapping (business) opportunities by looking at the value chain of the tourism sector.
  • Identifying local sociopreneurs on the ground.
  • Building a bridge between those sociopreneurs and a wider network of international actors to engage in collaborative solutions. 

For example, during this diagnosis phase, we may find out that children are suffering from chronic malnutrition in the targeted municipality because parents cannot afford buying food in bulk. 

At the same time, we may find out that hotels and restaurants often have excess in nutritious food. A social entrepreneur can tap of this opportunity (‘food in excess’) to set up a business where he/she sell food at low cost to local families to tackle a child rights problem (‘malnutrition’). 

With help of other actors, that social entrepreneur can devise a monthly family meal plan to guide families choosing food based on the nutritive value and caloric needs children have growing up.

The Sociopreneur Initiative is not a panacea for all problems affecting children. Yet it is fitting to the context of Nicaragua and tailored to engage the private sector to use its Corporate Social Responsibility for child rights. It’s the result of a careful reflection of the concerns of stakeholders involved in view of building the blocks to achieve a pre-determined vision statement (= a new model of sustainable tourism for children). It’s also a new model of development, where businesses take center stage. We call it business with a purpose and purpose changes everything.

The Power of a Brand

The Sociopreneur Initiative is complex and new to UNICEF. To help us convey the messages of the intersection of social businesses and child rights against the backdrop of the tourism sector, I turn to the uber talented Art Director, Camila Garay, for brand development. 

Many would think this was an unnecessary luxury. Yet creating an identity for a new initiative pays off. It brings clarity and cohesion amongst all involved regarding what the project is about and what it’s trying to achieve. As such, it makes communication easier across all stakeholders.  And communication is key when implementing a social innovation.

A graphic designer will ask you tough questions, unmasking holes in your business case. If you can’t explain it to her, you’re not ready to communicate with your partners. Working with innovative techniques of mind-mapping, questionnaires, word-association, etc, we’re able to nail what this initiative was about in a simple and accessible way. 

Sociopreneur is about local visionary leaders who choose to invest with both hearts and minds to create value for children and bring economic development to their communities. We captured this ‘dual-thinking’ with the logo that encompasses a ‘heart’ and a ‘fire’ - both of which represent the key characteristics of the social entrepreneurs we’re hoping to work with.  

These tools have also been helpful in the design of a newsletter (in progress) where we will send regular information about the status of the project implementation to concerned stakeholders. This helps maintain the enthusiasm for this social innovation, acknowledge possible setbacks, and inspire action.