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Practical impact measures, please!
by Verity Dimock
on January 04, 2013

EarthBoxLearn which measures are important to your partners


In November, I wrote about developing pitching skills as a new social entrepreneur and student in Ontario’s first Fellowship Program for Social Entrepreneurs. As 2013 begins, we are a third of the way through the nine-month fellowship, so I thought it would be interesting to consider some of the topics we’ll cover in the New Year. In particular, I thought I would try to add to the discussion on the topic of measuring and managing to outcomes.


Let me start by declaring a personal bias when it comes to measurement. Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I learned about measurement from a practical perspective. My parents didn’t talk about “impact measures” around the dinner table, but they did talk about plans for growing the family food business. As for measurements, they used them all the time to help make good management decisions. For example, what they cared about during this holiday season was seeing happy customers leaving our food shops, laden down with full shopping bags. This told them they were going to make money that year (and customers would likely be back).


From a community perspective, my parents never turned down an ask for school bake sales or fundraisers, and when our elementary school started an after-school cooking class, it was my mom who taught it. I don’t think my parents knew about double bottom-line businesses. But what they did teach me and my siblings was, when you focus on both people and profits, you stay in business. This practical advice has stayed with me my whole life.


Practical lessons in measurement


Fast forward a few years and I’m now working for a social enterprise. For some current practical lessons in measurement, I turned to the founder of the business, Robert Patterson in Guadalajara, Mexico. Bob left the UN, where he’d been a senior manager with the Food and Agriculture Organization and moved to Guadalajara in 2010. He has been building his business there, EarthBox Mexico, which focuses on improving the way we grow food to feed our cities, ever since. Bob’s premise is a simple one, “take a good product (the EarthBox) that’s been proven to work elsewhere and introduce it to a new market.”


Bob’s simple twist is to ensure that the business has a social orientation. In the case of the EarthBox, the focus is threefold. First, promote the environmental elements of the product. Second, engage the community by showing them that the product not only supports good health and great taste, but it can also be a wealth creator. And third, drive the manufacturing costs down, so that even some of the traditionally poorest consumers can afford it. When I ask about “impact measures,” Bob’s answer is short and to the point. “As a startup, what we care most about is sustainability; in other words, that we’re still in business next year. How we get there is by getting people to buy our product and tell their family and friends. We grow and as we do we’re able to add value to more communities.”


Find out what is important to your partners


At the community level, Bob has been good at supporting his customers and partners. As word gets out, more partnership opportunities arise for the business. This leads Bob to share another tip about measurement. He says, “start with understanding what impact measures are important to your partners (include funders here).” Bob emphasizes the importance of tying into these. For example, Bob and the Pro Empleo Foundation, a not-for-profit that provides training and consulting to support micro enterprises across Mexico, are looking at starting a community gardening project in Tequila, with the support of the Jose Cuervo Foundation. The foundation’s mandate includes cleaning up the surroundings of the city and promoting tourism in Tequila. By understanding this, Bob and Pro Empleo have been able to shape their pitch to Cuervo.


Their goal is to get the support they need to train women in Tequila to grow food in the EarthBox. If this goes forward, everyone wins. Pro Empleo and Bob get the backing they need, the women get a social enterprise, and it is good for the foundation because a healthy and prosperous town of Tequila brings tourists.


Looking ahead to 2013, I know our class at the SSE-O is going to hear from some experts at impact measurement. I’m looking forward to this, and if any of you are reading this blog, know that my hope is for some practical advice that even a new social entrepreneur can easily put into practice.


Verity Dimock

Verity Dimock is currently working with Robert Patterson (www.earthbox.mx) on the launch of a Canadian social enterprise focused on local, sustainable food. Before shifting her career focus to social enterprise, Verity was the executive director of Smart Serve Ontario. She holds a Master’s degree from Boise State University (Instructional and Performance Technology) and a Bachelor’s degree from Trent University (Politics and Economics).

In addition to her social enterprise work, Verity teaches career development workshops and is an employment coach for students in the HVAC and Sustainable Energy Programs at Humber College. She tweets about her experience as a new social entrepreneur @SocentGirl.


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