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7 habits of successful social innovators

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. #Aristotle

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The habits we adopt, whether consciously or unconsciously, will strongly determine the impact we will have with our ventures and initiatives. Consequently, it is of utmost importance that we develop positive habits and closely guard them as they can easily be broken when we are under pressure for a sustained period of time.

Following is a list of 7 habits all successful social innovators and business leaders embody.

1) Always learning

The only constant is change. With the pace at which the world is changing today it is imperative for successful social innovators to constantly broaden their horizons, deepen their skills and keep up to date in topics as diverse as leadership, income generation, technology, capacity building, legal regulations and impact measurement amongst others.

Luckily, there are many resources which high-impact innovators can access to always learn. These include books, online educational courses, accelerators & fellowships, workshops, joining valuable communities, attending events and much more.

Of course the best form of learning is through action. Practical learning beats theoretical knowledge. Yet to better prepare for the next steps and to avoid painful mistakes successful social innovators invest at least 1-2h per day in learning through books, articles, workshops or educational content.

2) Establish processes

Have you ever seen a social enterprise  or even a traditional organization that is successful without relying on processes? Hardly. Despite all the uncertainties that come with operating in emerging markets esablishing processes  for things like income generation, impact measurement and hiring & training staff is imperative to succeed.

Many social enterprises are chaotic in the start-up phase but successful social entrepreneurs look to establish processes and guidelines quickly to create a more structured operating environment. Having clearly outlined seps brings clarity and routine to daily operations. Processes help to avoid uncertainty and provide answers to operational questions.

3) Leverage Assets

No game changer is a one-man show. That is why all successful social business leaders understand the art of leveraging assets such as accelerators & fellowships, mentorships, free resources, volunteers, networks, grants and much more.

For instance, having an experienced and well-connected mentor is a key asset that should be highly valued. Mentors can offer sound advice, question important decisions and connect you to influential people and organization that can assist in growing the positive social impact.

An asset is often relative of course. To some it may be a new tool (check out producthunt for great digital tools) while for others it can be a committed team. The main element of an asset is that it provides value and makes life easier. All successful social innovators understand this and as a result are determined to maximize their use of assets to amplify the social impact they have.

4) Recognize Opportunity in Adversity

Successful social innovators see opportunities where most others only see challenges. Game-changing entrepreneurs will see problems like poverty, unemployment and lack of self-esteem as an opportunity to create a thriving business that tackles these issues.

When Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu faced these social challenges in Ethiopia in 2005, she used this as an opportunity to create what has now become a thriving social enterprise company called Sole Rebels. Alemu started Sole Rebels as a footwear company to create jobs in her community, empower economically marginalized people and bring back hope.

Below are some of the beautiful Sole Rebels products


soleRebels Women's nuDEAL NESTA Inspiration Sandal

soleRebels Women's homegrown VIBE Sanda

soleRebels Women's homegrown VIBE Sandal

soleRebels Unisex Kaatch-It Slip-On

soleRebels Unisex Kaatch-It Slip-On

Alemu mastered the art of reframing a social issue like unemployment and poverty into a series of small solvable steps. Sole Rebels started small taking one step at a time and growing sustainably. The copany has become one of the most successful social enterprises in Africa. They serve as a great example of how challenges were turned into business opportunities benefiting the people of Ethiopia.

5) Manage setbacks skillfully

Everybody has a plan 'till they get punched in the face. #Mike Tyson

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Being a social innovator can be a daunting journey filled with obstacles. Support for your vision may be lacking, resources are going to be scarce and your energy will be drained facing the 101 challenges that require your attention. There are certainly easier ways to invest your energy.

Yet what sets high-impact game changers apart is not that they never fail or face any setback. In fact, they may face more failure than others. What sets them apart is their ability to respond to setbacks gracefully, to pick themselves up again and to pursue their vision of a better world. They manage to find the courage to try again and again until they succeed.

It is easier said than done. Responding to setbacks and failure often involves deep reflection, admitting mistakes and weaknesses and emotional thoughness to get back on track. It involves managing your ego and your self-confidence which can be tricky in such situations. Successful social innovators that are fuelled by their burning desire do bounce back eventually. They often go on to achieve bigger social impact than they thought possible, all because they always found a way to bounce back.

6) Are Inclusive

Since the end of World War 2 billions of dollars have been poured into "development" work yet there is very little to show for it. One of the main reasons for this is that "development" was conducted by Western-trained "experts" who were sitting in their comfortable offices devising ways to "develop" the world without spending to much time in the respective locations or consulting locals.

Successful social innovators have learned from these past mistakes and are inclusive in their approach to implementing solutions to socio-economic challenges. This means they consult and involve local stakeholders in matters of social innovation, because they are a key element to the whole process.

If they are tackling child mortality issues, successful game-changers not only speak to academic experts or government people, but also to the mothers, children and community members to get a more holistic picture. Of course, they also give those views an equal weighting in developing and implementing social innovations.

In order for social innovation to have the positive social impact one envisions, it is essential to get the buy in of a variety of different stakeholders. Otherwise, the stakeholders dynamics can complicate matters and even prevent the success of a particular venture. Therefore, successful social entrepreneurs understand that one of their key habits is to be inclusive in their workings.

7) Practice Spirituality

Not all high-impact entrepreneurs are religious but all of them practice some form of spirituality to keep sane and balanced. Be it through meditation, prayer or silence. In challenging times spirituality can offer much needed refuge, while in times of great success it can help to keep grounded and humble.

In challenging times spirituality will helps to keep the entrepreneurial spirit and vision strong. It allows to detach from the worries of the day, get a clear perspective and serves as an important reminder to keep faith.

During those times where your social business is scaling and growing leaps & bounds spirituality will help you to keep calm and humble. It will remind you that every success requires the work of many and a bit of luck. It will also remind you to be thankful for experiencing the reward of one's labour.

Faith is to believe what you do not see, the reward of faith is to see what you believe. #St. Augustine

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Remember to closely pay attention to your habits for they will shape your destiny. It is worth examining them every few months to make sure they support the objectives you want to achieve. And if you love technology, you will be pleased to know there is a tool can help you keep track of your habits. Check out daydeed Our final advice to ensure you have positive habits is to keep reading and returning to Rise Africa Rise.:-)

About the Author Rise Africa Rise

Rise Africa Rise is your online guide to tech entrepreneurship and (social) innovation for African entrepreneurs, startups and businesses. Our aim is to provide you with valuable digital strategies, tools and insights to support you in building a world-class and competitive business in the 21st century.

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