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Sustainability explained

Updated: Feb 1


We often talk about helping our clients to become more ‘sustainable’. Well, we always talk about it, because it’s the reason CAP was formed. For many of our VCSE sector pals it’s like the holy grail state to achieve. But what does sustainability actually mean?


In simple terms, a sustainable social enterprise is one that effectively balances its social, environmental, and economic goals to create lasting positive impact while maintaining financial viability.


Here are the 12 key factors that we think contribute most to the sustainability of a social enterprise:


1. A Clear Social Mission

A well-defined and impactful social mission is fundamental. The enterprise should have a clear understanding of the social or environmental problem it aims to address.


2. Financial Viability

Sustainable social enterprises need to generate stable revenue to cover their costs and ensure long-term viability. This may involve developing innovative business models, securing grants, diversifying their income, or creating products/services that can compete in the open market.


3. Innovative Business Models

Social enterprises often need to think creatively about their business models. They may employ a "double bottom line" approach, measuring success in both financial and social terms. This could involve cross-subsidization, partnerships, or other innovative revenue streams.


4. Efficient Operations

Streamlined and efficient operations contribute to financial sustainability. This includes effective cost management, supply chain efficiency, and maximizing the impact of resources.


5. Impact Measurement and Evaluation

Regularly assessing and measuring the social and environmental impact is crucial. This not only helps in demonstrating the effectiveness of the enterprise but also enables continuous, impact-focussed improvement.


6. Community Engagement

Building strong relationships with the community or target beneficiaries is vital for the success of a social enterprise. It ensures that the enterprise remains responsive to the needs of its stakeholders.


7. Adaptability and Innovation

Social enterprises should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. This includes staying updated on the evolving needs of the community, advancements in technology, and shifts in the market.


8. Ethical Practices

Upholding high ethical standards in all aspects of the business, from sourcing materials to employment practices, is essential for building trust and maintaining the social enterprise's reputation.


9. Capacity Building

Investing in the skills and capacities of staff and community members enhances the overall impact and sustainability of the enterprise. Keep trying to improve....if not, enjoy a backwards slide into irrelevance and repetition.


10. Strategic Partnerships

Collaborating with other organizations, government agencies, or private sector partners can provide additional resources, expertise, and support, contributing to the sustainability of the social enterprise. New relationships help keep things fresh and changing.


11. Legal and Regulatory Compliance

Complying with relevant laws and regulations ensures that the social enterprise operates within legal boundaries, reducing the risk of legal challenges that could threaten its sustainability.

 

12. Long-Term Vision

Having a long-term vision and strategic plan helps guide the enterprise through challenges and ensures that it remains focused on its mission over time.


By effectively integrating these elements, a social enterprise can enhance its sustainability, ensuring that it continues to make a positive impact on society while maintaining financial health.


I wonder how many social enterprises actually manage to work on all of these elements effectively. At CAP we try constantly, but sometimes we're just so busy that keeping all 12 sustainability balls up in the air is a challenge too far. I guess after 12 years we're not doing too bad, eh!?

 

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