Chapter 21: Who else is doing this work? -
Tomorrow Toolkit for Entrepreneurs
Attendees at a Venturef0rth meetup in Philadelphia exchange ideas
Who else is doing this work? By Tony Abraham
When you talk about social impact, it’s not quite a question of competition but of understanding delivery. Understand what other organizations are working for the community you aim to serve and distinguish your efforts.

If you’re launching a social venture in a community where an organization is already doing similar work, there’s no need to anticipate a turf war. Just modify your delivery.

The mindset in some ways can relate to all organizations, but it’s particularly telling in the mission side of things. If you’re aiming to make a better community, you have to approach the idea of “competition” differently than others. That still relates to the advice we gave on vetting your marketplace in Chapter 6.

In Philadelphia, two community development corporations have figured out a way to work together in an overlapping neighborhood. The Fairmount CDC and Greater Brewerytown CDC have been collaborating in the same neighborhood for close to a decade.

For inherently territorial organizations like community development corporations, it’s not always easy to shed hubris — but in Philadelphia, the Fairmount and Greater Brewertytown CDCs have each found a way to play to their respective strengths. In this case, the collaboration was born from a monetary divide.

In the early 2000s, when Greater Brewerytown CDC was unable to secure consistent funding, it paved the way for Fairmount CDC to take on bigger projects in the neighborhood. But they also saw the need for Greater Brewerytown to exists. So, they provided capacity support to their sister CDC to prevent the doors from closing for good.

That allows for a sort of symbiotic relationship. With Fairmount taking on larger scale initiatives, it allows Greater Brewerytown to tackle otherwise tedious neighborhood assistance issues flowing through the community undercurrent.

In West Philadelphia, a suburban nonprofit called LoveLovingLove is taking on an ambitious effort to build its new headquarters in one of America’s Promise Zones. It’s a neighborhood plagued by poverty, where drug and alcohol addiction run rampant. The nonprofit’s mission is to help alleviate that stress in the community.

Southwest Nu-Stop, a local drug and alcohol recovery and education center, is already doing similar work in that neighborhood. LoveLovingLove founder Rashida Ali-Campbell said she plans on finding ways for the two organizations to collaborate on executing their similar missions.

LoveLovingLove’s headquarters will be an Earthship — a completely sustainable building built entirely from recycled materials — and will serve the community by offering holistic health information, providing access to community gardens and healthy food options and hosting workshops for the neighborhood.

Southwest Nu-Stop, a treatment facility, has a much more traditional approach to drug and alcohol addiction recovery in their provision of life skills training, therapy and community outreach initiatives.

“Our intentions are to bring fresh fruits and vegetables out of that building, between 8-12,000 pounds a year to give away to that community,” said Ali-Campbell. “Our intention is to teach people how to prepare that food properly.”

Same mission, different approach.

You can share a mission with another organization if your approach and delivery is distinct, shows Rashida Ali-Campbell, who is doing work in West Philadelphia alongside a similar group.

Your Checklist:

  • Find out who else is doing this work. Get into the community and discover what organizations have the same or a similar mission. Search online, and ask your prospective clients. Who are you using? Who is doing similar work?
  • Communicate with those organizations. Understand their structure and discover how they deliver on that mission. This works best when you have an understanding of your distinctions. Have coffee or another informal, friendly meeting with the leader of another organization with the goal of finding places you can complement each other.
  • Do you need to pivot?: This can’t be ignored. Are there differences? If not, maybe you should re-focus your efforts altogether. It’s OK to find out what you’ve initially focused on is not needed by your marketplace. Be focused on the mission of improving your community and remain humble.
  • Differentiate your services. Figure out how to offer your service in tandem with those existing organizations.
  • Communicate those differences: Work in tandem with other similar organizations to communicate how your respective offerings are distinct.

The point here is that you have to approach a marketplace differently on the mission side of things. There’s often room for different focuses and a push for greater efficiency but seek partnership and discovery first.

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