The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook

In Africa, entrepreneurs bring positive change to their cities, their countries, and their continent. Becoming a successful entrepreneur in Africa requires a skill set that covers every element of a business model. In their 2013 book, The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook, two Africans articulate these skills and relevantly explain a tested course of action for successful entrepreneurialism in Africa (Wharton Digital Press).

Ian C. MacMillan a Wharton professor and James D. Thompson, the director of the Wharton Social Entrepreneurship Program, both Africans, bring a combined 26 years of experience in social entrepreneurialism in the United States and Africa.  The African Entrepreneurship Award recognizes the value of MacMillan and Thompson’s work and writing in entrepreneurialism and based the Award’s Round questions on the Part One “Pressure Test” themes.

JimIan“Our work has proved that it is possible to launch a successful social enterprise – by taking small steps, focusing on discovery versus outcomes, and being constantly vigilant for the unexpected.”


The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook book is divided into three parts: Pressure Test your Start-Up Idea, Plan Your Social Enterprise, and Launch and Scale Your Social Enterprise. Each chapter is a sequential development of a successful business model. Each chapter ends with Pressure Test questions where entrepreneurs test their idea through a series of yes/no questions.

  1. In chapter 1, Articulate Your Targeted Problem and Substantiate Your Proposed Solution, MacMillan and Thompson lay a foundation for entrepreneurs as they begin thinking about their business idea. They write, “One of the biggest mistakes social entrepreneurs make is to charge in with inadequate understanding both of the problem they want to address and of the practicability of the solution they have in mind.”

Drawing from this inspiration, all applicants in the African Entrepreneurship Award first answer questions about the problem they are trying to solve in their region.

  1. Chapter 2 of the book trains the entrepreneur to Specify Performance Criteria. A business idea must be measurable. MacMillan and Thompson encourage entrepreneurs to identify measures for both Social Impact and Revenue. They say that “Specifying the unit of social impact forces you to think about how you are going to rate your performance and measure it, and thereby, how you are going to communicate to the world and stakeholders what social impact your project is delivering.”

With the foundational importance of measurable goals in mind, Round 1 questions in the African Entrepreneurship Award ask entrepreneurs to state how they will measure the success of their business idea.

  1. As entrepreneurs continue on their journey, in chapter 3, The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook recommends entrepreneurs Define and Segment Your Target Population. The authors suggest creating a list of “attractiveness features”, explaining why your business meets the needs of your beneficiaries. “Your beneficiary population is unlikely to be completely homogeneous, and targeted segmentation of the population is critical for increasing the chance of early traction. The idea is to think of a subset of your beneficiaries with whom you hope to gain as rapid an acceptance as possible at minimal cost.”

Round 1 questions parallel this theme, asking entrepreneurs to define their target customers in detail.

  1. Closely integrated to target customers is chapter 4 and the need to Understand the Beneficiary Experience. MacMillan and Thompson explain that entrepreneurs often mistakenly “have a product rather than a beneficiary (or customer) orientation.” Before rolling out a product, good entrepreneurs must first understand how their beneficiaries/customers will experience the proposed solution that the entrepreneur offers.

The African Entrepreneurship Award concurs with the need to understand the customer and their needs. Analyzing the customer experience is one of the final steps in Round 1 questions.

  1. Chapter 5, Analyze the Most Competitive Alternative, is the next logical step to better understand how your product is best poised to succeed. Competition, big or small, must be understood by successful entrepreneurs. MacMillan and Thompson encourage all entrepreneurs to ask “What is the most competitive alternative already out there? That is, who currently offers the best alternative approach to the problem?”

MacMillan and Thompson’s book follows these stops logically through with practical examples from Africa. The African Entrepreneurship Award includes a question about competitive analysis in Round 2.

  1. In Chapter 6, entrepreneurs begin to think about their business on a practical level, as it will manifest on the market. The chapter is on how to Identify Operations Realities. The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook encourages entrepreneurs to “develop a Deliverables table to outline all the capabilities you will need to have in place so that the benefit can be delivered.”

At this stage in the journey, entrepreneurs should be well on their way to a complete business proposal. In the African Entrepreneurship Award, entrepreneurs address Operations Realities in Round 3, ensuring that their Deliverables and Capabilities are in alignment.

  1. Chapter 7 discusses the very real need to Address the Inevitable Sociopolitics of each entrepreneur’s context. Each country has unique challenges that must be addressed. MacMillan and Thompson recommend a three-step approach. “1. Identify stakeholders. 2. Categorize your stakeholders: allies, opponents, and needed indifferents. 3. Develop a sociopolitical strategy.” Entrepreneurs at this stage should not be functioning in a vacuum, as every business is part of a broader sociopolitical environment.

In Round 3 of the Award, successful entrepreneurs should be able clearly articulate the sociopolitical realities of their context with implications for their business.

  1. Chapter 8, the last of Part 1, encourages entrepreneurs to Develop a Concept Statement. The Concept Statement is described as “the essence of the problem you wish to attack and the solution you intend to apply to ameliorate the problem.” The statement integrates all components of the business as discussed so far and can “be used to approach investors and other sources of financial support.

Themes from the Concept Statement are included in Round 3 Award questions.  The African Entrepreneurship Award strives to equip all entrepreneurs in their ability to attract future investors, and the Concept Statement encourages them to prepare accordingly.

The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook is an essential tool for any entrepreneur wishing to launch and scale a meaningful and profitable business in Africa.  The African Entrepreneurship Award thanks Ian C. MacMillan and James D. Thompson, a Presidential Jurist, for their book and its value in developing a successful Award that provides jobs and improves lives in Africa. For free resources about the book, and to hear more from the authors, click here.

To hear about more entrepreneurs in Africa, check out our stories page.

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