Guest Articles

August 2

Nicole Etchart

Five Keys to Raising Social Enterprises’ ‘Talent Quotient’

Whenever I am asked to name the key driver of social enterprise success, my response is “the people.” There is no doubt in my mind about this. It’s the same answer I give when asked about how NESsT, as an engaged impact investor, is able to do what it does. The people.

Working toward social impact is a people business, but for some strange reason we never seem to have the time and resources to support the people who work for us. Most people who enter the sector are motivated by social impact and the passion to make a change – but they also need to sustain themselves and their families, and have opportunities to grow and learn and be recognized for what they are doing. Study after study shows that this is the case for most people.

But how can under-resourced social enterprises and the intermediaries that support them make this happen? A good way to start is to see our talent from the perspective of an investor. We reap what we sow; talent is no exception. So let’s put on “investor’s shoes” and make an external assessment of how high our “talent quotient” would be, based on the following criteria:


Leadership is key

Founders of organisations and social enterprises need to learn to balance their own involvement with the need to give decision-making, innovation and leadership opportunities to their teams. The CEO needs to be a coach, providing team members with necessary support and stepping in only when there are major roadblocks.


Roles and expectations need to be aligned and clear

Social impact organisations are often led by a founding team, but that founding team eventually needs to change, grow and specialize in order to meet the new demands of the enterprise at later stages of development. Everyone should have a job description and a set of individual goals that are tied to the organisational goals as well as to skills and practices that team members want to change or develop. These need to be assessed and aligned on an annual basis.


Ongoing supervisory and team feedback is vital

Implementing annual performance reviews based on specific outcomes related to the goals is vital. NESsT uses a 360-degree system that includes input from colleagues as well as the supervisor. It’s also important to have regular check-ins with the team to help resolve issues, recognize accomplishments and provide constructive feedback. Organisations employing marginalized or at-risk individuals have a double duty to provide them with feedback on progress toward overcoming barriers.


A compensation plan with salary ranges should be in place

Organisations should strive to pay market rates. This year NESsT purchased compensation information for comparable positions in all of its markets. We also dug into our pockets to rectify the inequities we found. We will now work to make sure to maintain and increase these levels through performance reviews. Social enterprises and accelerators/incubators often start by paying their founding teams below-market salaries, but with time they need to build sustainable salaries into their projections or they risk losing their best talent, who eventually will want more secure livelihoods.


Supplement moderate compensation packages with ambitious intangible benefits

Employees value opportunities to work from home, to pursue educational and training courses, to be given time off after long trips or tight deadlines, to have flex time to be able to fulfill other responsibilities. Solicit input from your staff to find out what they most value and put together a package of benefits that employees can tap into. NESsT implements an annual survey (planning to make it biannual) to solicit feedback from staff on how to improve the offering. We measure our progress by the scores we receive on important questions like “I feel I can grow at NESsT” and “NESsT recognizes and rewards high performance by employees.”


If you recognized an area in which your organisation has potential for improvement, start by talking to your team, analyzing the status-quo and jointly deciding on a strategy. There is no single recipe for successful talent management, but there are best practices that can provide guidance for our sector to retain its talent. These measures are not necessarily costly and they will go a long way to strengthening team loyalty. Purpose-driven employees and entrepreneurs have an incredible amount of resilience, but they need great teams if they are to move mountains for social impact.

The NESsT team developed the I2E Talent Tool designed to help entrepreneurs assess and improve their core competencies at each stage of social enterprise development (startup, validate, prepare to scale and scale). A focus of the tool is to help these entrepreneurs to build and develop their teams for success. For more information, click here.


Nicole Etchart is co-founder and co-CEO of NESsT, a global organisation with a 19-year track record that invests in social enterprises that provide dignified jobs and incomes to those facing the greatest barriers to work. 

Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, via Flickr.



Base of the Pyramid, business development, financial inclusion, impact investing, social enterprise