After 14 years mobilizing the talent, creativity and energy of youth to deliver successful programs to eradicate poverty, vulnerability, and gender inequality, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) continues to expand the global reach of its social entrepreneurship. In communities as varied as Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Amman, Jordan, operating worldwide from Accra, Ghana, to New Orleans, DOT supports growth opportunities through social enterprise.
In each community it serves, DOT gives Interns the tools they need to launch social enterprises. DOT Interns follow a program of technology and business training, then teach community members in turn how to successfully launch their own businesses with confidence. And it works. 90% of DOT Interns and 40% of community participants have gone on to find paying jobs, expand their businesses, or launch new enterprises of their own.
Now DOT sees new opportunities: to scale its investment and mentorship model across the globe using an interconnected physical/digital system, and to deepen its impact on the communities it serves through new relationship programs.
Together, we developed new platforms to scale social impact, then field tested the ideas in global locations to create a refined program for DOT’s next phase of evolution.
Digital tools are key to helping DOT expand their programs around the globe while maintaining the power of localized operations. We designed Ideasource, a digital product solution, to help DOT support social entrepreneurs at any stage of the innovation process, anywhere in the world.
Ideasource is DOT’s social network for social impact, bringing all the aspects of social enterprise into one networking platform:
● Social networking.
● Project management.
● Resources and skill building.
We created this digital platform as a direct response to user needs we identified in field research spanning three continents over several months. We found social entrepreneurs cobbling together systems to manage projects, recruit resources, and build new skills. But they were doing it all through a patchwork of platforms not suited to the nuances of social enterprise, lacking a space to collaborate with other innovators to solve real problems in their communities.
Digital’s opportunity is its omnipresence, which makes users feel supported and uninhibited. Ideasource delivers on this, keeping all the collaboration and management of initiatives in one shared digital space, in an ongoing conversation with a scaleable model that allows DOT to extend their programs into new communities.
Our global field research also showed that DOT’s most powerful relationships are its closest. Programs are run on the ground by local entrepreneurs, to ensure the programs embody the cultural nuances important to those communities, and to help innovators make the local connections crucial to their initiatives.
DOT sought to extend those powerful relationships beyond the natural reach of local chapters.
We developed new relationship programs to help DOT continue the conversation, foster hands-on experience, and connect people together:
Participants serve in year-long positions with regular innovation training to practice ideas that will benefit their future enterprises.
Participants connect digitally and physically in small communities to mentor, learn, and build the emerging field of social enterprise together.
Global design research was critical to DOT’s goal of delivering programs that are culturally relevant and universally valuable. By first understanding the communities in which social entrepreneurs lived, and then revisiting them multiple times throughout the design process, we were able to design an offering that supported unique usage in a large, digital platform. All insights from the research process led directly to actions in the design process.
A social enterprise is a business that moves between the two poles of mission and sustainability. It can use mission to drive profitability, or use profitability to achieve its stated mission. Striking the balance between dual purposes, it defies existing legal frameworks of corporations and nonprofits.