There is “an enthusiastic and growing movement towards businesses for good”.
These are the words of Shona McDonald – words that hold much merit since she started the first woman-run wheelchair business in Africa in 1992.
Along the way she has also run two non-profit organisations.
McDonald is the owner of Shonaquip, an award-winning enterprise that has successfully managed to blend a social purpose with business thinking. In other words, a social enterprise.
A social enterprise is an organisation that is run like a business, but with a social purpose. It can be operated as a for-profit company, or as a non-profit organisation, or as a hybrid of the two.
Shonaquip is a social enterprise based on a hybrid model – the production of her equipment is registered as a for-profit business, while the remainder of the enterprise falls under a non-profit organisation.
McDonald started the business after she battled to find suitable equipment to meet the needs of her daughter, who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“At the time there was no equipment available for children with severe disabilities. We were given a pram with a cardboard box and I started to design and make equipment,” she says.
The demand for the equipment she was making for her daughter grew and it was then that she decided to start a business to support her social purpose.
“I decided to start a social business and be responsible for the business myself instead of being dependent on others to fund my activities,” says McDonald.
Her advice to business owners who start a social enterprise is to stay true to your social purpose.
“Use the company as a mechanism to fund your social purpose. Stay focused on the purpose and not on the profit,” she says. She cautions business owners who start social enterprises to ensure that the two purposes – business and social – work together.
McDonald believes that although perceptions of what a social enterprises is have changed in recent years, the investor market needed to support social enterprises still lags behind.
She says investors still hang on to the measurement of the bottom line.
This, she attributes to the current economic downturn which she believes has slowed down investment into the social enterprise sector.
However, she also believes that the downturn has made many more aware of the need for corporate social investment and social enterprises.