Lessons from a Social Enterprise – Not What It’s Cracked Up To Be

Some Surprises With Running A Social Enterprise

Social enterprise is a hot topic at the moment; but working with people for outside the professional field presents it’s own set of challenges.

Whether it’s a standalone project which aims to benefit a group of people with its profits or the project may be attached to an existing business, the process of managing a social enterprise can be more tricky than an average business or project.

Dr Tomasz Forfa learnt this when we added a social element to his existing education business. Dr Tom is a medical doctor who also helps students prepare for the Australian medical school entrance exam called the GAMSAT.

Recently, some of his students needed community service experience to put in their applications for medical school. So Dr Tom teamed them up with a Balinese NGO which looks after school children in rural Bali.

The result is Barefoot Bali, a crowd funding campaign to raise money for school uniforms and footwear for 3000 Balinese school kids. The students get their impressive community service experience and the Balinese kids no longer need to walk barefoot to school – everybody wins.

Dr Tom began by taking a back seat in the management of this project. “I preferred to give the students control so they develop important skills which will help them later on as doctors. I set the expectations and let them manage themselves, each other and the campaign.”

The students are concurrently running this campaign and working full time, have families and some are studying. Plus they have never done anything like this before.

So once the project reached a stumbling block, progress started to slow.

“They were doing their best but enthusiasm was low and they became stuck. Among other things, our contact in Bali was difficult to get a hold off and we needed his input to price the school uniforms.”

At that stage Dr Tom realised some firmer guidance in the form of clear outcomes and roles was needed.

“Time was running out. The launch date was approaching fast and we were stuck. 3000 school kids were on the line. I saw this as a project that had to succeed. I felt like no one was providing firm guidance on what to do next.”

Managing a social enterprise can be more difficult than expected because the people involved may not see it as a business or a professional exercise. Your team might not be used to strict deadlines or clear expectations. There may be a more relaxed attitude towards the work because it’s seen as a charitable or volunteering program.

Dr Tom suggests that the way to overcome that is to set the expectations from the beginning. Be clear about each person’s role and your own too. Outline the intentions of the project as well as rules of engagement. So that when things get difficult, the team understand what to do next.

“When I stepped in the team understood why. We brainstormed ways to overcome the roadblocks and we set clear responsibilities for achieving the next steps.”

Now the campaign ishttps://www.chuffed.org/project/barefoot-baliand collecting donations. By applying these techniques, Dr Tom and his team have been able to successfully launch their social enterprise to clothe 3000 forgotten Balinese children. If you want to support their campaign, click here.


We would like to thank Dr Tom and his team for sharing their experience with us and for all the work they are doing to help the children of Bali. I hope the lessons and insights shared benefit you on your projects.

In the interest of education, pick yourself something special or consider contributing a few dollars, or many dollars to this amazing cause.


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