The Big Idea — How to Start a Business that Changes the World

  • June 15th, 2011
  • Dan Bischoff

Note: We’re honored to have Rupert Scofield, CEO of FINCA International and author of “The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook,” as a guest on the Lendio blog. He has more than 40 years of creating successful non-profit organizations around the world, and tells us 4 ways how to create something that can improve the world:

The Big Idea -- How to Start a Business that Changes the World

Rupert Scofield's book, "The Social Entrepreneur's Handbook" outlines how to successfull start and run a non-profit.

You think you’ve come up with a “Big Idea” that could change the lives of many people – maybe even the world. Maybe you’ve been experimenting with it already on a small scale, and the results are promising. Or maybe it’s still just “on the drawing board,” a theory you want to test out. What are the steps you need to follow to turn your Big Idea into a reality?

The Pilot – Use other people’s money, other people’s people

You could do the test run yourself, and maybe that’s practical and affordable for you, but chances are if you are just starting out, a better approach would be to find an organization that has the financial and human resources and – very important – the interest in testing it out.

In the case of FINCA, since we had no resources of our own when we first were organized in 1985, John Hatch and I went around to other NGOs – some large and international like Save The Children and Catholic Relief Services, others small, local NGOs – and trained their field staff in the methodology of organizing a village bank and disbursing and collecting the microloans. The village banks became an instant success, no matter which organization implemented it. Our “Big Idea” had been proven out.

The Roll Out – Raising Your Own Money

The chief disadvantage of using other people’s money and people is that, once the concept is proven, you still don’t have the wherewithal to finance your own organization’s implementation of your Big Idea. (And make sure that, in the process of collaborating with other organizations, you don’t give away your “intellectual property” rights) It’s time to fundraise.

This can be a long, time-consuming process, but if your idea is powerful, and you can point to pilot projects that prove it works, people will buy into it. Start with your wealthy friends, if you have them. Pitch grassroots organizations in your community like Rotary Clubs and churches. Try not to spend anything on administration, but put all or as much of the money you raise directly into the program. As your program gains momentum, you can add foundations and corporations to your prospect list. If you can make the connection to a priority of the public sector, you may be able to attract State or Federal Grants. This process in FINCA took many years, but eventually we were raising millions of dollars every year.

The Roll Out – Recruiting Your Own Team

As your outreach grows, you will have to attract “fellow travelers” to the effort. Try to find people who will volunteer their services, at first, or work for token compensation. If your Big Idea is powerful enough, people will be attracted to it, and be willing to accept “psychic income” in lieu of a salary. Eventually, if you are delivering the results you have promised to your donors and supporters, you will be able to build a permanent, full-time staff and pay them a living wage. At each stage, hire the best people you can afford. Make sure you invest in a good accountant who will keep current with the books. Many noble missions have been derailed because the Visionary didn’t pay enough attention to counting and reporting on the beans.

The Final Stage – Imitation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery

The final indication that you have, indeed, hit upon a Big Idea is when others begin to copy it. This often takes a while, because no one likes to admit “Well, I couldn’t think of this on my own, so I copied it from the competition.” In FINCA’s case, it took a while, but our village banking microloan methodology has been adopted by over 800 microfinance institutions worldwide. We now have to compete with them for human and financial resources.

There’s much more to the FINCA story, of course. For the rest, check out my book, The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook: How to Start, Build and Run a Business that Improves the World.

About the Author
Rupert ScofieldRupert Scofield is president and CEO of FINCA International. Under his leadership, FINCA has grown from 60,000 clients and a loan portfolio of $5 million to more than 800,000 clients and a loan portfolio of more than $400 million. An agricultural economist, Scofield has 40 years’ experience as a social entrepreneur in Africa, Latin America, Eurasia, and the Middle East.

For more information on Rupert Scofield or on his book, “The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook,” visit www.rupertscofield.com.

About the Author

  • Dan Bischoff

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