Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, recently sat down with Susy Cheston, senior advisor to FI2020, and Anton Simanowitz, co-author of the new book The Business of Doing Good, to discuss how organizations can do good work and turn a profit, particularly in the microfinance sector.
In exploring this question, Simanowitz draws on key insights from the new book, in which he and co-author Katherine Knotts studied the success of AMK, a social enterprise which has touched the lives of millions of people living in poverty in rural Cambodia. This study revealed six powerful strategies to improve business to do good:
- Don’t just offer products; respond to client needs
- Ask good questions and have good conversations
- Do what it says on the tin
- Motivate staff to do difficult work in an excellent way
- Own the dirt road
- Adapt to the changing landscape
Find out more about the thinking behind these insights.
In the latter half of the book, the authors explore the disconnect between theory and practice and the resulting implications for client value. AMK’s success is largely attributed to its recognition of the distinction between client wants and client needs, which are rooted in the meaningful conversations the organization has with its clients. The authors observe, through their exploration of AMK, that vision is ensured only when it follows intent, instead being constrained by conventional wisdom.
Simanowitz was here in D.C. yesterday to discuss his book with Larry Reed and Susy Cheston on-site at the Center for Financial Inclusion. He spoke about the importance of conversation in the social sector, both with customers and within the organization itself. From his exploration of AMK, Simanowitz noted that client-centricity extends far beyond identifying the needs of the clients and becomes a feedback loop built on what he called conversational interplay.
An organization that successfully addresses the reality gap between theory and practice, he argues, embraces reality. It understands that following its social vision is everyone’s responsibility and so is built into the business model. Anton noted that we all have something to learn from this exploration of AMK, an organization that “has the client in their DNA” and “reinforces the truism that focus on the customer is good for business.”
Listen to the conversation
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Following the conversation, we asked Larry and Anton to write up a few closing thoughts.
Larry said, “What struck me from our conversation today was how much the lessons we learn from AMK apply to any social enterprise that seeks to expand the positive results achieved by its clients while also earning enough income to sustain itself and grow. Social enterprises need to align all their people and systems around their mission, and they do this with good data, engaging and open conversations, lots of iterations and improvements, incentives that reward behavior that promotes the mission, and a governance structure that reviews performance according to mission at every meeting. The result is an enterprise whose corporate culture can consistently generate creative responses to changing client needs.”
Anton said, “Countless organizations of every shape, size, and orientation — not just in the realm of microfinance — are in the business of doing good and working with poor and vulnerable communities around the world to deliver potentially life-changing services to address a range of pressing social needs. Some are doing excellent work, and this book examines what it is that they do that makes the difference. But at the same time, a common theme has emerged in our work over the past 20 years: we see organisations missing opportunities to do things better and organisations getting things wrong, again and again. When surveying the landscape of missed opportunities, there is temptation to become blindsided by the success stories, but we must deliver on the ethical imperative to make good on our good intentions. This book explores the inevitable shortcomings of every success story and how we can learn from those who are ‘doing good’ well.”
The authors of The Business of Doing Good argue that social enterprises and organizations must understand the importance of response, be it to environment, best practices, or client needs and capacities. The Business of Doing Good challenges microfinance practitioners, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, businessmen, and students of all kinds to reevaluate their respective journeys to deliver on their good intentions throughout their work and beyond.
Anton Simanowitz (@antowitz) has worked for the past 20 years to support social enterprises to be more effective in delivering impact, and for those who support and invest in them to make better investment, capacity building and policy decisions. For support on building organizations to deliver impact, contact him here. To receive current updates about The Business of Doing Good, follow the book on Twitter.
Larry Reed is the director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign (@MicroCredSummit). He has worked for more than 25 years in designing, supporting and leading activities and organizations that empower poor people to transform their lives and their communities. For most of that time Reed worked with Opportunity International, including five years as their Africa regional director and eight years as the first CEO of the Opportunity International Network
Susy Cheston is senior advisor for the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) at Accion (@CFI_ACCION) and leads the Financial Inclusion 2020 Campaign. Cheston has a long history of work in economic development, including leading roles at World Vision and Opportunity International, as well as being active in the leadership of the Microenterprise Coalition.