Last month, SPARK Deakin and Deakin’s Social Enterprise Collective had the privilege of holding a breakfast by Ndidi Nwuneli during her week-long program in Australia thanks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She generously shared her wisdom with an intimate audience of budding entrepreneurs.

Forbes Magazine named the Nigerian social entrepreneur, businesswoman and author as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa in 2011.

1. “Our vision and actions are not often aligned.”

In other words, vision and action can change the world.

Learning from other businesses that have scaled well can improve your own business model. Experiment with models similar to these businesses until you find the right fit for you, and work towards innovation that is driven by demand.

“You may think there is a need for your product, but does the public agree with you?”

Scalable business models often engage with their community. Many organisations originate with a wealth of ideas but fail to consider whether their community actually needs them. In ‘Ripples from Zambezi’, Ernesto Sirolli writes of his failed projects he tried to start in Africa that were established on good intentions. He had tried to teach Zimbabweans how to grow crops and fruits like tomatoes. When it came time to harvest, however, the tomatoes were destroyed by hippos. The Zimbabweans were expecting this, but Sirolli’s organisation were caught off guard, having not had proper conversations with local people.

Ndidi told of a presentation she delivered to a group of government officials. She was proposing a new curriculum.

“The woman raised her hand and said ‘I’m from the government and we will never adopt your curriculum,’ and I said ‘why? It’s a great curriculum!’ and she said, ‘because you didn’t involve us in the beginning’.”

Don’t underestimate the value of early stakeholder engagement. Without their involvement from early on, you may never earn their interest.

2. “The people who I pick for my board make or break the business.”

It’s impossible to scale without talent – you can’t do everything yourself (sorry). Invest time into finding and building the structure that works for you and your investors.

Look for someone who is passionate about your business and lives by the organisation’s mission and values. You need to build a strong culture, brand and reputation. Have a board of credible locals (and expats) who also believe in your business.

Avoid engaging in bribery at all costs and always choose ethical practices over convenience. While this takes time, the effort pays off in board members who “will always have your back.”

3. “Why aren’t we getting the money?”

The simple answer is that many of us aren’t investment ready. You become investment ready when you build a good track record through work you’ve done and learning how to present your story in a way that separates you from your competitors.


4. “Not every social innovation is going to be scalable”

If you really want to make a difference, you need to think about being scalable, and being scalable beyond the onset.

“This keeps me up at night, because I wonder where these people are going to sleep. What are they going to eat? What about sanitation? What about water? With little land mass you need to be innovative about how to reach them.”

Ndidi pointed out some key challenges in terms of scaling in Africa: “the struggle to find credible data in developing countries as well as the heterogeneity in communities – many communities have different dialects, making language-based innovations difficult across many communities.”

5. You can be a not-for-profit and a for-profit at the same time

Hybrid organisations are very successful and scalable when one portion of the program can be subsided and the other can be self-sustaining.

If we want to move forward, we’ve got to collaborate – Ndidi Nwuneli