Ever wonder what the difference between charity, social enterprise and responsible business management really is? Unsure as to where the social stops and the entrepreneurial begins? Gildas Yombi had similar questions. After working as a strategic consultant for a charity in Hong Kong, and starting his own social enterprise, he still felt he was lacking the tools to affect large scale change. In this interview he tells us what he what university can teach you about impact creation and what responsible business management can really achieve.
How did you initially get interested in starting a social impact career?
I was actually never interested in a “Social Impact” career. You see, initially coming from a Social Science background – Political Science & Economic Sociology – I knew for a fact that everything, be it economic, political, or scientific, concur to the realization of the “Social”. So I have rather always been interested in an “Impact” career. As opposed to a social impact career, an impact focused career put emphasis on serving the general and greater good - serving the society - from whichever career perspective or direction you find yourself in.
Were you involved in Social Enterprise before you came to Berlin?
Yes I was involved in Social Enterprise. While working as a Management Consultant for a Hong Kong based charity organization dedicated to abolishing hygiene related child mortality by collecting, recycling, and redistributing discarded soap from hotels, I came to realize first hand that the charity model, while providing an effective response to a severe issue, was not efficient in widening and sustaining the impact. I therefore decided to move to Singapore where I was based before moving to Hong Kong, and built a (social) enterprise model of the same solution; a model that was not only more socially impactful but also economically and environmentally more viable. That is how Soaps4Lives was founded in January 2013. I have also been involved in a number of other initiatives that aimed at building the capacities of social entrepreneurs.
What motivated you to go back to studying?
I have always been driven by the desire to create and facilitate the avenue of the so needed ‘Change’ we all talk about. But I was in a point of my career where I came to realize that the socioeconomic turmoil the world is facing cannot be solved solely by social entrepreneurship. The issues are just too big, too complex, or simply require a response that social entrepreneurship is limited in its capacity to provide, but that ‘main stream’ entrepreneurship and industries have the ability to provide when undertaken ‘responsibly’. For me therefore, the question became the one of how to help main stream entrepreneurs and business leaders develop and execute more responsible, impact-driven and sustainable business models and management frameworks.
To achieve that vision, I needed to equip myself with specific adequate and up-to-date cognitive and practical tools – the perfect way to do that was to go back to studying. I was lucky to be admitted to the Executive Master Program in Responsible Management at the Institute Corporate Responsibility Management - Steinbeis University in Berlin (ICRM), where I focused my studies on Responsible Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Business.
What were the key things you took away from your masters for your future plans?
When I entered the masters, I was primarily aiming to equip myself with the knowledge, skills and competences that would enable me to achieve my vision of a more impact-driven and responsible entrepreneurial world. Not only have I met that objective, but furthermore, the program has given me the opportunity to create a platform that will help me affect positive change within any organization.
To be more specific, we are currently developing a platform – a centre – that will provide training and advisory support to (aspiring) entrepreneurs, businesses and other regulatory organizations on areas of social innovation and responsible and sustainable entrepreneurship. As key learnings, my responsible business modelling and sustainable leadership skills are now much sharper. I am also able to design and embed business relevant CSR policies into any company and organization.
What impact do you think responsible business management can have?
Beyond merely being a management framework, responsible business management to me entails the commitment that business leaders and managers should make to always – and I emphasise ALWAYS - uphold ethical considerations in their daily handling of their business... Responsible business management has proven to be the most effective and efficient management framework for embedding business ethics, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship principles into any business model. It can ensure a more inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development, and I believe it is the business management framework by excellence to help social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs alike in their endeavours to build and execute more impact- driven and sustainable enterprise models. It has a substantial potential to increase the competitiveness of our economies by for example helping the ones come up with more economically viable social enterprise, while helping the others increase the social and environmental viability of their business; in both cases, it increases the sustainability – also taken in the perspective of durability - index the Enterprise.
In your thesis you focused on sustainable business models. Do you have three top tips for budding entrepreneurs?
- Act socially but think economically: it will help you build and implement a self-sustainable enterprise model with greater socioeconomic and environmental added value, and therefore higher propensity for social impact.
- Create an Operational Plan: it will give you a clear perspective of the frameworks, resources, and support ecosystems needed to execute your mission (business model). It is the navigator and computer panel that will help you not only foresee and mitigate the potential risks that may arise, but also identify and implement necessary pivots (improvements); thereby increasing the chances of success.
- Improve continuously: it will help you stay ahead of all plausible threats and opportunities. Don’t be for instance afraid to enhance your vision or mission statement; relevance, efficiency, responsibility and enhancement will increase the sustainability index of the enterprise.
This interview was provided in collaboration with Steinbeis University. It was originally published in October 2015. Learn more about the Steinbeis Master in Responsible Management.