Guest article by Francesca Pinzone founder of Umbo

How to launch a purpose-driven business from scratch, and how to stay true to that purpose throughout times of change 

Social enterprise, not-for-profit, social business, doing social good. These are all terms that we often hear talked about, but what is it like to work in a business that has to constantly balance profit and purpose, ensuring that this balance is just right in order to achieve positive social outcomes? We all know that starting a business is no easy feat. Having a great idea, especially one that you know will impact many lives, such as the social enterprise Umbo which I have co-founded, is just the starting point!

I have been very fortunate to work for the last 15 years in the not-for-profit and social enterprise space, or what is now increasingly being termed the for-purpose sector. Working with complex social problems in dynamically changing systems, with competing priorities, can be challenging, particularly when dealing with a sector that is often viewed under a very critical lens. We only have to look at what happened in early 2020 with the Australian Red Cross and the media and public’s perception of their strategic spend from the bushfire appeal, to see the lens under which one of the most established NFP’s in Australia was viewed within.

As a purpose driven business, it is so important to ensure that the work we do is meeting a significant need and addressing a market failure. We also need to really understand the system in which we are working. Social issues are often termed ‘wicked problems’ (yes, that is the term) because they are difficult to solve and very complex, with many stakeholders. So, when starting an organisation that works towards mitigating a wicked problem, we need to understand the complexity of the system in which we are working, otherwise we will fail to achieve the outcomes we are seeking.

What is really important in creating a for-purpose organisation is understanding and communicating your why. Why do we do what we do – and who do we do it for?

How do we share our why so that others not only understand what we are doing, but buy into it as much as we do?

As a social enterprise, Umbo is committed to helping people access health services such as speech and occupational therapy. We know that if children don’t have access to these services, particularly in a timely manner, the impacts on their life trajectory can be huge – from literacy and numeracy issues, to social isolation and in the long term, poor skills development and unemployment.

So, what is our why? We want to reduce inequality by implementing our services.

Now I can talk at length about this, and how we are trying to disrupt the health system that perpetuates this inequality, because I am deeply passionate about it. But I want others to be on board – I need others to drink the Kool-Aid.  And the best way for me to do this is to help them understand our why.

The other important reason to have clarity on your why, and ensure that your mindset is focused on this, is to enable you to make strategic decisions and balance priorities. As a social enterprise, we are committed to re-investing a minimum of 50% of our profits back into the business. It can be challenging when making decisions about funding, employment and new projects when we are balancing profit and purpose. There are also ethical decisions that have to be made when working towards positive social outcomes. This is where it is important that your why becomes your true North Star – the focus that guides everything you do – the decisions you make, where you focus your energy and time.  This becomes more important as an organisation scales and grows.

In challenging times, such as now in COVID-19, where our world has been turned on its head and there is ongoing uncertainty, it can be hard to maintain the momentum and to keep going. Only 65% of businesses make it past 10 years. What I have found so important in this time is to work as a collective team. My two co-founders and I have worked hard to scale our business and increase our offerings to support families, however we have also recognised that we need good systems in place and that we can’t expand too fast. We have brought in some incredible people to our team, and we now are working on becoming leaders of leaders, rather than leaders of a team. We also want to create a workplace culture of authenticity and respect, as well as fun! We are also increasingly recognising that working in a start-up is damn hard work – and that we all need time out to rejuvenate and re-energise. Having just had a week away to do this (although I am not sure a week away with my kids was rejuvenating) even during this critical time has been important, especially when you live and breathe your organisation.

Of course, we have failed in some areas – but we are working towards learning from that, embracing resilience and growing from our mistakes. We are continuously striving towards getting feedback from our team, from our clients, and from our other stakeholders, so that we can move forward and continue to deliver services to families in need. We are also sticking tight and holding on to our true North Star, our why, to ensure that we maintain focus and direction on achieving better outcomes for families and reducing health inequalities in Australia.

About Francesca Pinzone 

Francesca Pinzone is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of online allied health services provider, Umbo. She is passionate about bringing health services to children in rural communities and removing social inequalities. She has a MA in International Public Health from the University of Sydney, a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact from the University of NSW, and a Bachelor of Science, Nursing from the University of Technology, Sydney.

Francesca has over 12 years of experience working in non-profit organisations and in international development, having previously worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Pakistan, UNICEF in India and CanTeen in Australia, and also currently teaches Creating Social Change: From Innovation to Impact at UNSW Sydney with the Centre for Social Impact.

She is also a mother of a child who has received speech therapy.

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