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…

Since studying the effectiveness of templates for business purposes is my research area, 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/10.35692/07183992.13.2.7


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

Historical summary of milestone articles on visualization

January 7, 2017

The visual journalist Kennedy Elliot compiled “39 studies on human perception in 30 minutes.” Her article is informative and easy to read, offering a great summary of the most influential articles on visualization.


Our cross-cultural research is forthcoming in the journal Frontiers of Business Research in China

September 5, 2014

We are very glad that our cross-cultural research will be published in the journal “Frontiers of Business Research in China” (Vol. 8, issue 4). The article I wrote with Prof. Ge and N. Yaru, of the Central University of Finance and Economics, is titled “Improving Attitude toward Corporate Strategy with Visual Mapping: Scale Development and Application in Europe and China”.

In this paper we developed a scale of attitude toward a corporate strategy which is suitable both in Europe and in China. In fact we have testes all the questions of our newly developed scale in both countries. We have then used the scale to test the effect of a visual representation of a business strategy (compared to a classic textual description) in China and Europe. We found that when content is presented with both text and visual representations (together), people have a more positive attitute toward it. This effect is stronger in Europe, than in China.


Visual insights on the recent vote against massive immigration in Switzerland

February 13, 2014


Last sunday Feburary 9th, Swiss people were asked to vote “against mass immigration. Some people have advanced the hypothesis that Cantons in which there is a high percentage of immigrants, they would vote in support of developing laws to prevent mass immigration. This graph seems to show quite the oppoisite!

Beside the exception of Ticino, cantons which have high immigration rates, such as Geneva, Basel, Valais and Neuchatel voted against the implementation of laws to prevent mass immigration. On the contrary, in Cantons with low immigration rates, such as Schwyz and Appenzell Innerrhoden (which was also the last Canton to grant women the vote in 1991!) up to 65% of the population voted to develop measures to block mass immigration.
Are you surprised? Actually numerous studies show that the people are afraid of what they don’t know… so the more contacts and exposures you have with foreigners, the more you appreciate them.


Visual Guide to Startups, Founders and Venture Capitalists

January 16, 2014

On the visual.ly website you can find an innovative information visualization about startups, founders and venture capitalists. As the developers state: “Startups are positioned within the main interface on a horizontal interactive timeline, based on the year they were founded. Details about each company are provided below the timeline.”

Check it out at: http://visual.ly/vizbox/startup-universe/

startup universe

Innovate4Climate visual campaigns

December 28, 2013

The Innovate4climate project is a partnership of Climate-KIC, Impact Hub Zürich and WWF Schwei: they are “looking for innovative, scalable ideas to tackle climate change. At I4C you can submit and develop ideas whilst collaborating with others.”

At the Communicating Visually course of the University of St. Gallen, we have collaborate with  Innovate4Climate: the course participants have been challenged to create visual triggers, ideas and potential campaigns to takle the climate change issue.

Here you can see the colorful and innovative results!

Idea 1: Andy Warhol for climate change

(c) David Murray, Beatriz Carreta and Naomi Ng

Idea 2: Post-it your message


The full presentation of the work can be found at: http://prezi.com/nkpaa_9a7c8s/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

 (c) Marie Helbich-Poschacher; Isabel Araguas;Henrique Borges; Leora Lussi and Ali Cicioglu.
Idea 3: Posters “What do you really need?”



(c) Gan Cai Sheng Jonathan, Heng Jun Jie Calvin and Poh Siying Clarinda

Idea 4: contrast and visual framingwonders of the world


(c) Daryl Sim, Josh Sum and Dong Yi

Idea 5: Product Green


(c) Samuel Cobbi, Loic Doeblin, Verena Facundo and Federico Vollmeier

Visualizing for personal development: the career sweet spot

November 19, 2013

“It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement”
Abraham Maslow (In Business model you pg. 125)

Coaching, mentoring and personal development programs are usually based on dialogue. Talking is certainly useful, but we visualizing, drawing and sketching can provide additionl help for understanding yourself and your potential. Starting with this post, we’ll showcase a series of templats and examples on the topic of personal development and leadership through visual mapping.

A first example is the career sweet spot. The example below has been drawn by Sebastian Kernbach, researcher at the University of Lugano, adapted from the sweet spot of the book “Business Model you” by Timothy Clark, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (pg.114). In contrast with the original sweet spot, the figure below invites you to consider your values, in addition to your skills and interests.

What is the sweet spot? This quite well known visualization is a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles. The circles represent skills, interest and values. You can easily draw it yourself and fill it in with information about yourself.

The “sweet spot” is the overlap of the three: that is, he skills which match your interests and your values. In most cases we have a set of skills which are useful for our job/studies, but maybe our current job is not alligned with our personal interests and our core values.

Using this template can help you identify if there is a good overlap between the skills you have and what really matters for you. If the “sweet spot” is empty or not very populated, you might need to focus on acquiring skills that are closer to your values and interests, to gain more satisfaction from your daily activities.


Sketching self-perception and others’ perception

September 7, 2013

Dove’s recent ad “Real Beauty sketches” shows a number of interesting phenomena: first, visualizing how you see yourself and how others see you, can be revealing. Women often see themselves is less positive terms than others see them. Research indeed shows that women has lower self-esteem than men, on average. And the sketches help them to realize this dangerous negative attitude.



Free software for visual and design collaboration

August 29, 2013

Mashable recently offered a review of the best ‘design collaboration tools’ which are available online for free: http://mashable.com/2013/08/06/design-collaboration-tools/

These online tools allow to share documents and feedback within a (dispersed) team or with clients. They allow to write feedback and to visually annotate the designs or graphics.

Thanks Rahel for the hint

Organizational communication across cultures with visual mapping: benefits and perils

March 24, 2013

Communicating across cultures is often a challenge: it is easy to imagine that visualization can help us overcome linguistic barriers, but it can actually do much more!

The benefits of visual mapping for cross-cultural communication can be summarized in five main factors:
1. Overcoming linguistic barriers.
2. Providing double cues: When the verbal or textual information is not clear, the visual element can support elaborations and understanding.
3. Seeing the big picture and the relations: Mapping ideas forces to provide links between the contributions. In presence of cultural
differences, this explicitation is useful to convey ideas more clearly.
4. Surface misunderstanding: Visualization, thanks to its concreteness, can help to surface assumptions and misunderstandings by triggering an open discussion.
5. Prevent personal conflict: when ideas are mapped onto a visualization, participants can express their disagreement by referencing the idea visualized, rather than the person who proposed it. This advantage of visual mapping can be particularly useful in intercultural meetings in which the Power Distance  of the participants’ culture is largely different.

However visualization is not free of dangers when used in cross-cultural context: misunderstanding can arise, cause by seven main factors:

1. Color.
2. Direction: In Arabic and in traditional Chinese language information is read from right to left.
3. Icons and symbols: a handshake symbolizes agreement only in the west. Fork and knife are perceived as an exotic symbol in Asia.
4. Humor: humour is culturally dependent.
5. Visual metaphors: sport metaphors are not understood in coutries where that sport is not practiced.
6. Focus of attention: Westerners focus on the main central objects at the expenses of the background, and Asians focus equally on the background as on the foreground (Nisbett, 2003).
7. Nature of thought: Westerners prefer linear and analytical diagrams while Asians prefer more holistic types of visualizations such as visual metaphors.

If you are interested in more details you can check out my recent publication:  Bresciani, S. (2013). Organizational communication with visual mapping: Comparing East and West. In D. Ingenhoff (Ed.), Internationale PR-Forschung. Konstanz: UVK Verlag.


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