In social entrepreneurship, there’s a lot of talk about social needs. After all, starting a social business is quite unfounded if it isn’t meeting a social need. But what does social need really mean? And how can you validate a need? Many project leaders in the Impuls program struggle to substantiate their targeted social need and wonder if their project is “social” enough.
A social need is defined by its collective aspect: it is often expressed by a population residing on a same territory and/or who share certain characteristics such as age, revenue, family situation, a handicap, a vulnerability… Social needs go hand in hand with social innovation and consist of developing new entrepreneurial solutions to the needs of an unsatisfied society, including unemployment, education, environmental pollution, etc.
1. Define the problem and explain the causes
If you’ve engaged in a project, it’s because you are absolutely convinced it’s well founded. And although that may be blatantly obvious to you, precisely defining the social problem you intend to address is essential to demonstrating the relevance of your project. This step consists of analyzing the blockage points that stand in the way of resolving the issue and identifying the areas of intervention. Using a problem tree1 can help you get a global view of the various causes and consequences.
A few questions to consider:
What is the identified problem? Why is it a problem? What are its causes and consequences? Who is affected by this problem? What is the target? What will you tangibly change and how?
2. Delineate the geographical scope of the need
Every project is part of a local and territorial reality, that you will need to learn everything about in order to anticipate its developments. Analyze the immediate environment surrounding the problem. What is the competition? Where is your solution located? Defining your scope of intervention will help you identify the players and stakeholders you should or must work with. A number of tools can help you with this, such as: a market study (ex. analyzing your competition), an analysis of trends and environment (ex. PESTEL, SWOT), a fields study, …
3. Quantify the problem to establish its amplitude
It’s important to confirm your identified problem through reliable data and precise documentary research. Some helpful tools and methods include: a quantitative survey, research, statistics, etc. To the best of your ability, quantify the number of people affected by selecting the numbers that are most relevant to your project. Quantifying a social need can be a challenging and time-consuming exercise, but the result will add credibility to your project. The Statec2, ministries’ websites and European surverys can be good sources for your quantitative assessments.
See if you can answer the following questions:
How many people are affected by the identified problem? What cost arises from it? What is the cost to society in not dealing with this problem?
4. Get out and meet your targets
Pinpointing and validating the needs of your targets is fundamental. This means both the beneficiaries (the people who will benefit from your offering) and the clients (who will pay). Conduct a survey (qualitative study) to assess and identify their needs: according to your targets, is the problem worth fixing? What are their current needs and frustrations? It’s important to take time with these people to ask questions, listen to their answers and work them into your project description.
Depending on the type of project, it can be very helpful and judicious to involve beneficiaries in defining the addressed need. You can involve them from the very beginning via workgroups, surveys or group discussions.
Defining the need is a key step in developing any project. A poor definition could raise questions as to the relevance of your actions, as well as the effectiveness and sustainability of your project. Seeking support from professionals and counselling structures (such as nyuko’s3 Impuls program or 6zero14) will help you structure your approach and consolidate the foundations of your project.
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