International Expansion: Unlocking Growth for Your Social Enterprise

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Expanding a social enterprise internationally can be a daunting task, and having the right mindset and cultural awareness is crucial for success.  Indeed, it is a critical pre-requisite for having a good business plan, becoming financially sustainable and creating scalable impact enabling you to navigate the challenges that come with international expansion.

Recently, we hosted a webinar with Ross Isdale of The Challenges Group where we discussed the importance of mindset and culture when you want to grow your business internationally. We were joined by Mark Majewsky Anderson, Director of Research and Innovation at Glasgow Caledonian University and Mia Perry, Founder of Sustainable Futures Global who all helped shed some light on the things entrepreneurs need to consider when they approach international expansion.

If you would like more in-depth insight on the topics covered in this blog, you can watch the webinar here.

Key Considerations When Looking at International Expansion

We’ve outlined the key tips provided by Ross, Mark and Mia also covering the importance of international collaboration, equal partnerships and creating a sustainable business.

What Is Your Motivation for Setting Up an International Venture and Are You Doing It For the Right Reasons?

Great success in building impactful ventures comes from those with intimate experience and a bird’s eye view of the often-complex problems they are looking to solve. They have extensive knowledge and research on what the challenges are, what the related and interconnected issues that are causing or impacted by this problem, what solutions have already been tested, what did and didn’t work and who gains to benefit from the solution being implemented.

Every country has its own unique culture, customs, and way of doing business. It’s important to take the time to research and understand the culture of the country you are expanding to. This will help you to avoid any cultural misunderstandings or miscommunications that could harm your business. Being culturally aware also shows that you are respectful of the country and its people, which can go a long way in building trust and positive relationships.

Collaboration is key and it’s important to approach collaboration with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others. Collaborating with others also means being open to sharing your own knowledge and expertise. This exchange of knowledge and ideas can lead to innovative solutions and better outcomes for all involved, as well as helping you to create a business that is uniquely suited to the local environment.

Are You Building Your International Model on the Right Information?

You need to fully understand the topic, devoting sufficient time, resources and energy towards first knowing what sources of information are available or required to understand both where solutions are needed and where they can add value, as well as what the business model needed should look like.

There is also an underestimation of the value of building solid national and international networks and partnerships; and of the selection, entering and expansion into foreign markets.

Working in partnership can be a powerful tool when expanding into a new country. You must be willing to work with local stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organisations, and other businesses when trying to setup an enterprise abroad. By doing so, you can gain a better understanding of the target market and its needs and develop partnerships that can help them navigate the local business environment.

When setting up partnerships, they should be equal. It’s important to approach partnerships with mutual respect and a willingness to work together towards a common goal. A successful partnership means that both parties benefit equally and that there is a shared understanding of each other’s goals and values. It’s important to choose partners who share your values and vision for the future, as this will help to ensure the success of the partnership in the long term.

Those that don’t do this ultimately result in the creation of unsustainable business models, where entrepreneurs have difficulties in:

  • Designing new products or services actually fit for delivering global impact
  • Offering prices to clients that they are actually able to pay and on manageable terms
  • Meeting institutional needs in foreign markets
  • Establishing/using distribution channels and tapping into value chains that will actually complement their offering
  • Offering technical or after-sales service
  • Adjusting promotional activities

Does Your CEO Have the Right Skillset to Lead an International Organisation?

Social entrepreneurs who found new businesses begin with an idea they are passionate about, an idea that they believe can bring about systemic change. The true talent of a founder lies with their ability to create innovative ideas, model concepts and develop new technologies. Ultimately, they get a lot of their energy from problem solving and creating.

However, none of that necessarily speaks to the broader skill set a CEO needs to start and grow a successful social enterprise – especially one focussed on creating impact and commercial viability internationally which demands a global mindset.

Sometimes, to drive growth, social entrepreneurs that start new enterprises may need to bring in someone to steer the ship.

Founders can be good CEOs, and many founders do have the required traits such as senior leadership and communication skills, strategic thinking and foresight, delegation and employee development as well as specific cross-cultural knowledge to apply in complex and international markets. However, that doesn’t need to be the case and it could be that the Founder’s strengths lie within advising CEOs, not being one.

Don’t Just Parachute in Then Leave When It Gets Tough – Create a Sustainable Business

Creating a sustainable business is also crucial for the success of internationalising your business. A sustainable business is one that takes into account the economic, social, and environmental impacts of its operations. When expanding your social enterprise internationally, it’s important to consider the impact that your business will have on the local community and the environment. A sustainable business model is one that considers these impacts and works to minimise them. This not only helps to protect the environment and the community, but it also helps to build trust and positive relationships with your customers and partners.

It won’t always be plain sailing – running a business never is – but if you build your enterprise sensibly with one eye on ensuring that it is to be a fixture within the business community for years to come, you can ensure you build a sustainable business that serves the needs of its audience for longer than just a couple of years.

Expanding your social enterprise internationally requires more than just a good business plan and financial stability. It requires the right mindset, cultural awareness, international collaboration, equal partnerships, and a sustainable business model. Approaching international expansion with a growth mindset, cultural awareness, and a willingness to collaborate and create equal partnerships can help to ensure the success of your business in a new market. Creating a sustainable business model that is mindful of the economic, social, and environmental impacts of your operations is also crucial for the long-term success of your social enterprise.

The Challenges Group has extensive experience in helping Scottish business grow in the global South, so if you’re looking to take your business international, do get in touch with them.

At the International Social Enterprise Observatory, we have helped many enterprises expand internationally. If you think we can help you, get in touch today.

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