Benetech’s Assessment Method for Developing New Social Enterprises – by Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman is the CEO of Benetech

Jim Fruchterman is the CEO of Benetech

The Social Enterprise Alliance is structuring Summit ’13 around seven “building blocks” identified as core principles in building a for-purpose economy. I think it’s extremely important that SEA is motivating us to reflect on what it takes to build markets for new social enterprise.

At Benetech, the nonprofit technology social enterprise I lead, we combine our passion for developing technology for social good with a pragmatic business approach—and we’ve developed an entire process that guides us in our work. Key to this process is our New Project Assessment Method that, coincidentally, is also built upon seven core elements. I discuss this method at greater length in my contribution to Ron Schultz’s latest book, Creating Good Work, and in this post I’d like to share some highlights.

At any given time, Benetech has dozens of new ideas in our pipeline, coming from a wide range of sources. We choose a few ideas to further research and develop and then zero in on those we think are the top contenders to create maximum social return on investment. Once we’ve determined what in our pipeline shows enough promise to merit further appraisal, we apply our New Project Assessment Method to ensure the proposed solution has great potential and is in line with our organizational truths. Here are the seven core elements of our assessment method:

  1. Chance for Transformative Change – Does this proposed solution lower the cost of delivering a social good by a factor of 10 or bring a technological capability to a community that didn’t have a solution at all?
  2. Meeting User Needs – What are the needs of the users and how will this proposed solution actually meet those needs and improve their lives?
  3. Low Technical Risk – How much existing technology can we apply to address the social need and avoid recreating the wheel?
  4. Distribution and Go-to-Market Plan – If the proposed solution can make a difference, how can we get it to the people who need it?
  5. Partnership Plan – Who are the cross-sector stakeholders we can engage to help us ensure that this proposed solution would have meaningful social impact?
  6. Financial Sustainability Plan – Does this proposed solution have a path to financial sustainability so that after the initial donor investment it can support itself on the revenue it generates?
  7. Exit Options – What are at least three successful exit options we can execute after beginning development on this proposed solution?

You can learn more about Benetech’s approach for developing new social enterprises by reading my chapter in Ron’s book or this post, which details how Bookshare – Benetech’s largest social enterprise and the world’ largest online library of accessible books for people with print disabilities – maps back to our New Project Assessment Method.

I hope this discussion helps other social enterprises examine and develop their own frameworks, and look forward to continuing the conversations Summit ’13 will begin!

Jim Fruchterman will emcee Social Enterprise Summit ’13. 

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