A Visual Approach for Developing Social Enterprises

November 17, 2020

Some years ago I had the honor to meet Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his social enterprise the Grameen Bank. In the workshop organized by Social Business Earth, the Business Model Canvas was used to brainstorm and ideate social businesses. A visual template! And not really a fitting one for ideating…

Studying the effectiveness of templates for business purposes is my research area, so I talked to Prof. Yunus and asked what he thought of utilizing specific visuals for facilitating the process of creating and growing a social business. He encouraged me to carry on with the idea, and here we are few years later… with the framework developed and utilized for MBA courses on social entrepreneurship, and finally, published!

In our article you can find lots of examples of visual techniques to be used not only for ideating a social innovation, but also for acquiring resources, scaling the social impact and monitoring the impact! The framework can also be used as a teaching guide for courses and workshops in social entrepreneurship.

Reference: Bresciani S, Eppler M.J. (2020). A Visual Approach for Developing Social Enterprises. Multidisciplinary Business Review, 13 (2), 91-104. ISSN 0718-400X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.35692/07183992.13.2.9


The emerging interest in social entrepreneurship is challenged in practice by the complexity of balancing economic and social aspects, and by the difficulties of getting the public to understand the very concept of social enterprising. How can we support social entrepreneurs in developing and growing their organizations? The cognitive advantages of thinking and working visually are well established in the literature, but not yet applied to guide the entire social enterprising process. Mapping and communicating ideas visually can provide several benefits, not only in the ideation phase, but also for managing, optimizing, and growing a social enterprise. We present a framework with visual formats that can be utilized by social entrepreneurs in each specific phase of the social enterprise development: (1) idea generation, (2) social enterprise model refinement, (3) idea promotion and resources acquisition, (4) planning, (5) sales and instructions, (6) scaling impact, and (7) measuring and monitoring. At a theoretical level, the framework aims to structure and summarize the benefits of visual representations of knowledge for the field of social entrepreneurship. This visual approach has practical applications for social entrepreneurs who can utilize it as an overarching tool, for an informed selection and use of visualizations to support the development of their social ventures.
Keywords: Social entrepreneurship, visualization, visual maps, social business, canvas, visual techniques, Peru.

El interés emergente por el emprendimiento social se ve desafiado en la práctica por la complejidad de equilibrar los aspectos económicos y sociales, y por las dificultades para lograr que el público comprenda el concepto mismo de emprendimiento social. ¿Cómo podemos ayudar a los emprendedores sociales a desarrollar y hacer crecer sus organizaciones? Las ventajas cognitivas de pensar y trabajar visualmente están bien establecidas en la literatura, pero aún no se aplican para guiar todo el proceso emprendedor social. El mapeo y la comunicación de ideas visualmente pueden proporcionar varios beneficios no solo en la fase de ideación, sino también para administrar, optimizar y hacer crecer una empresa social. Presentamos un marco con formatos visuales que pueden ser utilizados por emprendedores sociales en cada fase específica del desarrollo de la empresa social: (1) generación de ideas, (2) refinamiento del modelo de empresa social, (3) promoción de ideas y adquisición de recursos, (4) planificación, (5) ventas e instrucciones, (6) ampliación del impacto y (7) medición y seguimiento. A nivel teórico, el marco tiene como objetivo estructurar y resumir los beneficios de las representaciones visuales del conocimiento para el campo del emprendimiento social. Este enfoque visual tiene aplicaciones prácticas para los emprendedores sociales que pueden utilizarlo como una herramienta general, para una selección informada y el uso de visualizaciones para apoyar el desarrollo de sus empresas sociales.
Palabras clave: emprendimiento social, visualización, mapas visuales, social business, modelo visual, Perù

Kolours Summer Party

July 7, 2014

The Summer Party of our non-profit social enterprise Kolours took place last Saturday July 5th.kolours-summer-party2014

If you missed the pool party and eth[n]ic market, you can find Kolours products and future events on our website www.kolours.org

Doing Business in India by prof. Shainesh

April 12, 2014


Prof. Shainesh of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore just gave a great course on Doing Business in India at the Unviersity of St. Gallen.

Congratulations to prof. Shiamesh for winning the second prize in the GlobaLens’ 2014 Next Billion Case Competition with his case “Narayana Nethralaya: Expanding Affordable Eye Care” which is about an Indian social entrepreneur applying an innovative business model based on the latest mobile technologies for providing healthcare (also) to the poorest.


Guest lecture: Rahel Aschwanden of the Impact Hub Zurich

October 12, 2013

In the Visual Literacy for Management course we had the pleasure to have a guest lecture by Rahel Aschwanden, of the Impact Hub Zurich, on How to Become a Social Entrepreneur.

guest-lecture-Rahel on Social Entrepreneurship

After explaining what is SE, and how the Impact Hub can help social entrepreneurs, Rahel conducted an interactive excercise with the class.

She asked the course participants to identify the major problems of our society, think about a possible solution for a specific problem and then propose it in a group to get feedback. Even in few minutes many interesting ideas were proposed, such as a “packaging consultancy company” to advice companies on how to develop environmental friendly packages for their products. Well done!


Best Paper Award for our “Knowledge Visualization for Social Entrepreneurs” paper

July 30, 2013

We are very happy and honored to receive the Best Paper Award of the 17th International Information  Visualization Conference in London for our paper on “Knowledge Visualization for Social Entrepreneurs”!


Abstract of the paper:

“Social entrepreneurship is an emerging field which has the power to change the way we do business and resolve societal challenges. Visualization has not yet been systematically applied to support social entrepreneurs in creating, growing and scaling their ventures. We thus propose a framework for the use of knowledge visualization in the creation and development of social enterprises. We posit that each phase of the social venturing process requires a different knowledge visualization method. These diverse types of (interactive) graphic representations help social entrepreneurs cope with resource constraints and interact with a great variety of stakeholders. In this contribution we thus show that knowledge visualization can provide versatile and inexpensive ways to augment social entrepreneurs’ activities systematically.”

Keywords- social entrepreneurship; social visualization; social busines; framework; process; visual mapping; knowledge visualization.

Peace Nobel Laureate Prof. Yunus at the Social Business Conference 2013

May 16, 2013

The second Social Business conference was held yesterday, with the keynote speech of Prof. Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and author of “Social Business”.

His talk was insighful, very pragmatic and full of hope, as ususal. It was also different from last year speech, with new inspiring stories from US and Albania, among others.

As USI President Martinoli said in the opening speech, Prof. Yunus is a great example of how academia can bring a remarkable positive change in the society!

yunus social business conference 2013

Kolours and Prof Yunus

Business Models for non profit organizations

January 21, 2013

Awesome presentation by Alexander Osterwalder – co-author of the best selling book “Business Model Generation” – on Business Models Beyond Profit – Social Entrepreneurship.


Business Models Beyond Profit – Social Entrepreneurship Lecture

From cooperation projects to markets

October 16, 2012

The symposium “Un mondo alla rovescia: quale ruolo per la cooperazione internazionale” took place last Saturday in Lugano, organized by Fosit (Federazione ONG della Svizzera italiana) and USI’s MIC program (Master of Advances Studies in intercultural Communication), among others.

During the morning a panel of experts on the topic of International Cooperation had a provocative discussion on ‘the world upside-down’. With the recent economic crisis we are witnessing profound changes in international cooperation: which countries need help and which kind of help. The moderator brought data regarding public debt, with Greece and southern European states having public debt-to GDP ratio 4 times bigger than many African states, as Uganda and Zambia for instance. Although I appreciate the innovative take on the issue, by the end of the panel I felt as the real problems have been somehow forgotten, giving to the public the impression that there are no more problems that require our attention in Africa or Asia. Thus I greatly appreciated the intervention by prof. Poglia, pointing out that problems are still real and far from being solved, since many countries still have a life expectancy of 40 years (compared to 80 for Developed countries), just to cite one parameter.

The afternoon was focused on specific themes, and I chose to attend “dalla cooperazione al mercato”. A very authentic and insightful presentation was given by Jean-Claude Luvini, founder and head of Masaba coffe Switzerland, and by Florian AnderHub, founder of AnderGroup, the branding agency which helped Masaba creating a professional brand (and follow the philosophy of “do good”). Masaba coffee is selling fair trade coffee from Uganda, rosted in Italy: “Masaba helps small farmers in Uganda produce a coffee of excellence, in respect of fair trade and organic agriculture” (source: website). We concluded the day with a taste of this premium coffee, which was indeed excellent – in addition to provide help to Ugandan farmers… a social enterprise from Ticino!

Muhammad Yunus in Switzerland, May 2012

April 12, 2012

Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, will be in Lugano and Zurich in May 18th and 19th 2012. The event is organized by Social Business Earth, the first social business in Switzerland funded by Samantha Caccamo. The event will start in Lugano, in the aula magna of the university at 5pm and will continue in Zurich the following day in Zurich at Hüb Zurich at 10 am.
Professor Yunus, from Bangladesh, is the founder of the Grameen Bank, the inventor of micro-credit and author of Banker to the Poor; A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (2008) and Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs  (2010).

According to the organizers, the objective of the conferennces is “Raising awareness on the concept of Social Business in Switzerland to serve humanity’s most pressing needs and spearheading new initiatives in the private, public and social sectors through Social Business”. The keynote speaker will be Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Professor Yunus himself will grace the conference and interact personally with participants from various walks of life as he looks to promote his concept of social business throughout the world. Social Business aims to offer an alternative to profit maximizing businesses, utilizing economic tools to solve social problems in financially sustainable ways and fostering a more humane capitalism to change the world.” (Source: Social business earth).

Registration is now open.

Social Entrepreneurship @ AoM

September 23, 2011

Social entrepreneurship is attracting a large and growing interest at the Academy, reflecting its increasing popularity. A number of PDW and Symposia were organized on the topic, and most of them were fully booked including “Social Entrepreneurship and Broader Theories: Shedding New Light on the Bigger Picture” organized by Susan Mueller.
Johanna Mair, a well known researcher in this area, presented a framework (in the picture below), with 3 main elements: theory, methods and phenomenon. Her colleague Lisa Hehenberger presented their research on Venture Philanthropy.

The session “Entrepreneurship in the Social Context: Is it Really Different?” was remarkable, and it included talks on “How Social Entrepreneurs Define Success”, cross-national variation in social entrepreneurship, how social is different from commercial entrepreneurship (double bottom line: social + commercial). Zev Lowe (ESADE Business School) presented “Design-Driven Social Ventures: An Alternative to the Community-Led Approach” with two fascinating cases: KIVA and Worldreader.

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