How We Began a Social Enterprise Against All Odds

By Shivani Singh


Starting a Social Enterprise

It’s been about 8 months since Jess and I created PATHFINDER. One of our goals is to record and analyze everything we learn so that we may be of service to others. I think I’d like my first journal entry to be particularly personal. So this piece is about us: two passionate women committed to being successful amidst special circumstances.

Everything about this organization has been unique. Not only is our work innovative, but also the way we have executed our business is singular. We understand that charting our own path is bound to create exceptional situations and we’ve progressed in spite of it.

But, how do we make it work?

Since the start of PATHFINDER, Jess and I have not been in the same room once. In fact, we haven’t seen each other in a few years. Jess lives in France. I’ve been nomadic for a year and a half while awaiting a resolution to my persistent immigration woes. I’ve been traveling various countries (and time zones). So, all our work has been online. All our discussions are conducted via phone and text, and we are in contact every day as per convenience. Our predictable geographical challenges have been surprisingly nonexistent. People often remark at how strong we are as a team and how far we’ve come in little time.

When we started this business, Jess was in her third trimester with her first child. In spite of my insisting otherwise, she barely took a couple of weeks off work before she was back online, at her desk, baby cooing happily in lap. She wouldn’t have it any other way, she said. She gets to raise her son and work on what she loves, all while keeping her own schedule. In my yet-childless opinion, of course, she is a beast.

And then we’ve faced the challenges all other entrepreneurs face. We’ve been working hard to develop credibility, we have more work than we have resources, and we’ve earned no income (yet). Furthermore, social entrepreneurship is a relatively new field and particularly unknown. The potential in our work resonates with many, but selling it, in spite of all the promise, is much tougher than selling a reliable new tech toy.

That said, we’ve loved every bit of it… Well, maybe some bits more than others (see above).

Go for it anyway

Looking back now, I think we worried about our circumstances for no more than a few minutes on a couple of calls at the start. For one thing, we didn’t have the time to agonize. It didn’t take long for us to find our rhythm and I’m proud to say that it works fantastically for us. We knew we wanted to work with each other, we knew PATHFINDER is where we belong and so, we did what we had to. Besides, there are bigger, scarier challenges to overcome on the entrepreneur’s path to success. We’ve always found ourselves focusing our energy on creating results we can be proud of.

I recognize that circumstances differ for everyone, as do people’s ways of managing them. Certainly, people themselves are excitingly diverse. But a few well-known lessons stand out for us in particular:

1. Everybody is afraid. One of our most successful tools to overcome fear has been to focus on what we can control, and not worry about what we cannot. Indeed, when either of us (me) is having the occasional freak-out, the other reminds us of this (thanks, Jess!)

2. Work hard and smart. Do what needs to be done, and do it well. Learn lessons along the way. Evolve. Nobody has all the answers at the get-go but if you are committed to becoming the best, do what it takes to get there.

3. Dig deep. Using my own life as an example, I say this especially to you, ladies: you’d be amazed at what you’re capable of!

The bottom line

And I say this with conviction: you’ve got this! The world needs more people like us. You can be a nomadic immigrant or a new mother. You can be a young woman amidst distant influential men. You can disagree with the status quo. You can challenge the system(s). You can find your own creative solutions to everything you consider an obstacle. The point is, if you truly believe that you can make the world a better place by setting up your own social enterprise, chances are you are absolutely right.


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