This stage has two objectives – designing the enterprise and forming the team that is going to make it happen. Stage one was about understanding what you have to work with to develop a viable enterprise. Stage two was about understanding the people you are going to need to do influence in order to be successful – buying a product or changing their behaviour. Stage three creates the design that is going to guide the team in its work.

This stage is crucial because at the end of it, your team or organisations will decide if there is a viable concept that is worth putting serious time and money into realising

Why collaborate on design?

Up till now, it’s likely there have been a barrage if ideas, discussions and arguments. Its tempting to argue that a strong leader with a vision will deliver a successful project, but I actually think its good design. So why design the business in a collaborative way? I reckon there’s two main reasons:

  • Create a robust value proposition – this means that a. it responds to a genuine customer need better than the competition and b. the enterprise can actually deliver on its promises. It’s easy to fall in love with our own ideas, but do they stand up when faced with decent market research data, a hard look at the numbers, and the social research on our change agents?
  • Create a sense of shared purpose – conservation enterprise is a collaborative endeavour, involving a diverse group of people who look at problems and see solutions in different ways. In order to collaborate successfully the team needs to have the confidence to believe in the design of the conservation enterprise they are trying to realise.


What to include in the design?

What does this co-design stage look like? There’s a lot of options for what we can include, and what we figure out later, but from experience I suggest there’s a few key things things to do as a team.

Confirm the purpose – restating and confirming why we are here provides a reference check for when there are questions over values, particularly when trying to balance income and conservation outcomes.

Business model design – the industry standard is the Business Model Canvas. Rather than going through each of the parts of this model in this post, I’ll just point you to the original book Business Model Generation and website, and this short explainer.


The power of this model is that it is explicitly collaborative, bringing together all parts of the business create something that works. As opposed to a business plan, it makes explicit the dependencies between the different parts of the business, so there’s no missing pieces in terms of producing and communicating the value proposition. There are a number of variations on the model which integrate for purpose activities, but IMHO it’s better the design a functioning business first.

Lead with the market research and consumer insight – design a compelling value proposition for your target consumer segment based on the opportunities you have identified, and then work backwards, looking at how you can deliver the value proposition as an organisation.

Too often social enterprise startups start with a product in search of a market rather than the other way around.

Integrate the impact – how your business model is going to create the change. You have picked your change agents and understood the choices they face in the previous stage, so as a team you can agree on how the business is going to change their decisions based on the choices they face, either as suppliers, stakeholders or customers – is the focus on affordable goods, job creation, knowledge acquisition, contracting, payments for ecosystem services, governance engagement, or behaviour change communications? Then you can integrate this with the activities and value proposition of the business model. If you want more guidance, check out USAID’s review here and my former colleagues’ Actor Based Change model here.


Take the time to discuss and agree on the contentious issues now, as future conflict over these issues can destroy a budding enterprise

Discuss the benefits – for some reason, people always want to talk about what we are going to do with all the money we are going to make, as though making a profit from a community business was easy. Manage expectations early, but also have the conservation now, in order to avoid complications later if there is actual money to play with. If the benefits will go to external parties, this is likely to need to be put in writing. AIATSIS has some advice which is particularly relevant to the Australian context.

Agree on the governance – power is an often unacknowledged but contested issue. By sorting out who owns the enterprise and how decisions are made early on as a group, you can save a lot of potentially destructive behaviours as the enterprise grows. There’s also flow-on decisions that need to be made about the legal structures that consider questions of risk, and balances accountability with the need for depoliticised decision-making.

Check the finances – take the time to properly work out the finances, and confirm that the business is going to be profitable or not. Here’s an overview. If the finances do not add up, you will need to change the business model.

So does it all work? Then it’s time to make it happen IRL!


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