Building Bridges Over Borders: 5 tips on globally expanding your social enterprise

Flickr/CC/Storm Crypt

By Zarreen Kamalie


Setting up a social enterprise can be challenging, but once you’ve succeeded in that you may want to spread the good you’re doing to other parts of the country, and eventually the world.

You may find it that this becomes a lot trickier when trying to expand your enterprise in different countries besides the enterprise’s country of origin. The possible challenges include intergovernmental trade and exchange barriers, cultural clashes, and finding your footing in general.

So we’ve taken some tips from the guys who have done it all before, or are currently in the process of carrying out this mammoth task, to bring you 5 tips on globally expanding your social enterprise.

1. Use your governmental resources

National departments of trade and international exchanges, and foreign affairs, are important for both the country you’re currently in and the country you’re about to step into.

You need to be sure you have the right ins and that you are aware of the necessary procedures involved.

CEO of Makerble, Matt Kepple, recounts the way his enterprise got in touch with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to organize trade missions to Singapore and New York. In New York, Makerble was able to connect with legal advisors, recruitment consultants and business growth specialists.

Kepple stresses that the importance of getting the appropriate visas when you’re setting up overseas and knowing whether you need to incorporate a new business entity in that country is key.

2. Familiarise yourself with the location and the context

Make sure you know what your social enterprise can bring to the market of the new country that currently based local enterprises cannot. In order to ensure your success, Kepple says you’ll need understand how you will manage client expectations.

In a 2014 article with The Guardian, Kepple told readers “as a subscriptions service…every month we need to be delivering customer service to our cohort of donors. Currently we’d be stretched doing this for customers across widely differing time zones, so we’re staggering our global roll-out”

Know your context and what solutions would best suit the environment.

3. Understand the value of your product and know your global competitors

Similar to setting up your social enterprise in its initial location, you have to be sure of what your product can bring to its prospective clients. You also want to make sure you’re not giving them more of the same thing.

The same rules apply when you expand, just in a different arena.

Co-founder of Swaheelies, Chania Waithera Lackey, whose primary markets are the US and UK has also given some advice through The Guardian.

Lackey emphasised the importance of knowing your global competitors and their products or social enterprise. While these competitors could focus on different products, there will always be a consumer who will look at your business and compare it with another. If you’re able to find similarities in their ethos or even that the products are coming from the same jurisdiction, then make that work to the advantage of your own enterprise.

The important thing is not to be discouraged if you find another enterprise that has a similar goal or approach. Rather isolate a feature that is unique to your own enterprise and make that the feature that makes you stand out.

4. Know your (potential) local partners – network

Once you manage to get in and establish yourself as a social enterprise in a new country, it could be a good idea to find potential local partners. Basically, find “your guy” – your transport guy, your packaging guy, your promo guy, just find your guy. t

There may be certain aspects of your social enterprise that make your social enterprise unique. If, for example, the aspect is that you package your products in a specific way or using certain sourced materials, it is important to also make sure “your guy” doesn’t take away that special aspect. “Your guy”, however, could help you locate those particular materials in a new setting. Make this as easy as possible, because your ultimate goal is no easy mission.

5. Be aware of the cultural practices of your new location

Founder of Streetbank, Sam Stevens, told The Guardian that when he set up his originally British social enterprise in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, culture was a very important consideration.

Respect and understanding are two really important features when bridging cultural barriers, and this isn’t something you should take on if you’re a total outsider. Find ways to find the most accurate as possible information on the cultural and social dynamics of your new location. For Stevens it was gender dynamics in an Islamic society. That isn’t to say that the whole national society felt tense when seeing an image of a mixed gender interaction on the homepage. Stevens’ team managed to isolate the likelihood that less moderate Muslim customers would feel slightly more uneasy and hesitant to engage with the product. Especially when compared to the likelihood that moderate Muslims would feel the same as their more conservative counterparts if they were to see an image with a same gender interaction.

Ultimately, it cannot be stressed enough how large and exciting of a task this is that you’re about to embark on. But with enough determination and smart moves, you’ll remind everyone back home why you’re too busy to go out.