7 steps to become an impact entrepreneur and inspire others

Laura Haverkamp, Partner at Ashoka Deutschland about how founders can add purpose to their work that creates innovation and true value

When you start fostering the development of papers from straw because you ultimately want to save earth’s forest. When you run successful executive training by empowering youth living on the street to be entrepreneurship teachers. When you rethink how agriculture can work in a solidary model setting incentives for sustainable development – you´re in the middle of the world of social entrepreneurs.

As we are facing the challenges of climate change, global injustice, and unequal chances – plus those of a global pandemic, people increasingly ask themselves: What´s my share in creating impact for the good of all?

In case you also wonder about this question, let me offer some hands-on steps for your own journey:

1.    Realize you always have impact. Shape it.

The good and bad news is that no matter what you do: You have an impact. That’s the very short version of systems thinking. And, frankly, we should cross the word impact entrepreneur from our syllabus. The future of entrepreneurship is impact entrepreneurship, so we might as well create a new normal right away and reshape entrepreneurship altogether. So, the first thing to do is to understand the dimensions of the impact you have. For an easy start, you might want to map out your personal CO2 footprint and resource backpack. Do the same for your business or organization. And look at what we call your theory of change: (How)Do you help overcome social issues or support for them not to appear? Which resources do you invest in order to do what with which effects. Steps like these train your brain to look at impact rather than output, where too many of us stop today.

2.    Get your frame: What do you care about?

Obviously, impact can have many shapes and we might lead engaged arguments about what is good and what isn´t. We find the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals a good parameter to work with – with a very clear horizon of 2030 for them to be reached. Ask yourself: What do I think goes wrong in this world? And how could I contribute to change it? Your actions should be rooted in what you are passionate about, that’s no news. If you`re interested in creating your own strategy for systemic change, have a look at to start asking the right questions: Which systems do I want to change? Why? How do I go about that most effectively?  

3.    Educate yourself and broaden your networks

You don´t need to study sustainability or alternative economics to get started. With “Doughnut Economics” Kate Raworth draws a picture of how we can create an economy that flourishes while respecting the ecological ceiling on the one hand and our social basis and equality on the other (watch her TED Talk here). A Great basis to work with. Check out resources like the Stanford Social Innovation Review or Impact Boom, get to know networks like Ashoka, Skoll, Catalyst2030, Leaders on Climate Action and many more. To really dive in, Ashoka's Visionary Program for Entrepreneurs longing to better understand and shape their impact might be your go-to spot.

4.    Learn from leading Social Entrepreneurs

Oldie but goodie: Look at those who have done it before. Once you went through steps 1-3, you have an idea of what your impacts are and what you´d like to contribute to Invitesocial entrepreneurs as experts to consult with. Let´s differentiate here: The master class is to reshape the goal of your entrepreneurial action altogether towards creating positive societal impact. On your way there, you might want to create less negative impact first. Become zero waste, CO2 neutral, family-friendly, socially inclusive, more diverse, etc. – for all these fields, there are wonderful social entrepreneurs out there you can learn from and work with.

5.    Rethink business model as you know it

Often, impact entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship is misunderstood as doing regular business how we know it while doing some good. Yay, I am generating profits –and donating 10% of it to charity. And really, that´s not what this is about in its core. It´s about creating value for many. To empower people. To change the systems we live in for the better. If you want to create social impact, you might just have to be extra creative,i.e. because the ones who need you might not be able to pay you. So you need to play over gang – and automatically you start to think in networks, alliances and in hybrid models.

6.    Think aspiration!

Jeffrey Sachs, former director of The Earth Institute at the Columbia University, calls this time the Age of sustainable development. And I could go on to quote smart people talking about the future, but in short, this is what it comes down to: We, together, need to create new standards for entrepreneurship. And never underestimate the role entrepreneurial talent can and should take in overcoming some of our world’s most pressing social issues. And hey, does that not sound like a motivation to work with?

7.    Get started

What we love about entrepreneurs is doing and getting things done. And we need to pick up some speed if we want to make a good turn, meaning: Reach the UN Sustainable development goals. So let´s get started!

There you go. Let ́s make this earth a better place than we found it.

Laura Haverkamp is a partner at Ashoka Germany, a member of the board of the Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany (SEND e.V.) and member of Thinktank30 of the German Association to the Club of Rome. In all these functions, she passionately works towards unleashing more talent towards creating and advancing social innovation and change for the good of all.

Ashoka works with almost 4.000 social entrepreneurs – among them Nicole Rycroft (canopeplanet), Arnoud Raskin (Streetwize) and Christian Hiss (Regionalwert AG)mentioned above – in more than 90 countries around the world. These are women and men who create and implement impactful solutions to pressing social issues, driven by their creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and integrity. In its work, Ashoka does not only see empowered communities overcome social issues, new markets created and business models shaped.