Social entrepreneur: 'Leave in better condition than you found it' should be motto for all business

Fionn Dobbin, entrepreneur and lecturer at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, started his social enterprise after he heard a story about one unhappy woman.
Fionn Dobbin at Social Enterprise summit. Photo by Laurynas Andriušis
Fionn Dobbin at Social Enterprise summit. Photo by Laurynas Andriušis

Mother of four suddenly became a widow after her husband died in a car accident. She could not take up any job, because her four kids claimed all of her time. Now the woman, and many other Latvian mothers, work in Dobbin`s enterprise called “”, where they have a rare if not the only possibility to balance job and childcare.

Dobbin started his business with only 500 euros. That was the price of the first scarves collection, a webpage design and a photoshoot.

Half-Irish, raised in Germany and now based in Latvia, Fionn Dobbin says it would be selfish not to create a business when you have such a possibility.

In his opinion, customers are becoming more and more conscious, and social enterprises, invoking the power of social media, can simply become movements for a brighter future.

Start a business – or stay selfish

Dobbin isn’t new in Vilnius – he has delivered some lectures for ISM students here before. It was, however, the first time he talked about his social enterprise here.

“If you want to create a great product, I mean not only the product itself, but also the company, its philosophy – you have to think about the impact you are making. Business is such a simple way to solve some problems in our society! And I`m lucky: I live in Europe, I have the education needed and the skills to develop a socially responsible enterprise. And I think it would be absolutely selfish not to do that if you have all these skills,” said Dobbin after mentoring the first cycle of “Socifaction”, a social accelerator for young entrepreneurs.

While many aspiring entrepreneurs puzzle their brains about how to earn more money, Dobbin thinks that everyone has to do something to make this world a better place to live.

“I don’t think that every company should be a social enterprise. No. But every company should do something that is beneficial for the society. You cannot create a business that only consumes resources. Have you heard the saying: 'Leave in a better shape than you found it”? I think it could be a motto for every company. If we only consumed everything, there’d be no chance of a bright future for future generations. There are many great companies that are working without social mission or aim. But they at least make sure they don’t make a negative impact,” Dobbin.

Well said! But which entrepreneurs today live in accordance with this motto?

Companies should fear “sh** storms”

Dobbin says that we’re living in information age where any great initiative could receive huge support and be spread by society. On the other hand, a rotten apple spoils the barrel, as the saying goes. For example, a public complaint about a bad product or service is a headache for a starting entrepreneur.

“We know what’s happening in the world. We know about the huge poverty in Africa and homeless people on the streets of big cities. We know about corrupt politicians. There has been no other generation that had so easy access to information. And that’s a great tool to develop your business. If my great-grandmother wanted to announce something to 100 friends, she would have sent carriages and horses to different sides. Now an adolescent 'tweets' something and the message is seen by several hundred people immediately.”

In this age, a new phenomenon called “sh** storm” appeared.

“Companies have to be very careful these days. If you make a mistake while dealing with your clients or business partners, it could spread through internet, raising a so-called shitstorm,” warned the social entrepreneur.

End of selfish corporations?

Despite the risk negative information spreading fast, social media is today’s tool of enterprise development.

“The young people of this generation don’t watch TV – they create their own television (on usually), they don’t read books – they write their own blogs. And while developing my own business for eight years, I feel that this movement is getting stronger,” said Dobbin. “Consumers don’t want to give their hardly earned money to selfish corporations that don’t care for their employees or the environment. They want to buy products from someone who does something good, who doesn’t make employees slave away their days. Every company would like their business to become a movement. But it’s not likely to happen if you’re selling toilet paper and going only for bigger revenue,” he continued.

On the first cycle of “Socifaction”, 120 applicants tried their luck and later 40 of them were selected to take part in a three-month mentoring and workshop programme.

Fionn Dobbin greets Socifaction winners. Photo by D.Kučys
Fionn Dobbin greets Socifaction winners. Photo by D.Kučys

Creativity and failure march together

Was there a social enterprise idea which surprised Dobbin?

“Oh don’t ask me that. I cannot evaluate any of the ideas, while they are still in the 'laboratory' state. Any design or product you create must be tested in reality. You must wait for the feedback and then you get to know if you did it right or wrong. At 'Socifaction' I’ve heard many ideas that have a huge potential. But creativity and failure always go together. There are things you cannot predict or count. You simply have to go and do it. And then we see if it succeeds. I believe that the result of this 'Socifaction' would be the creation of a few really strong enterprises,” said Dobbin.

But how did he start his own business?

“I always say that you create a company for one particular person. Then you start to produce something and watch if others like it too. My business has started from a situation that befell the sister of my good friend. She suddenly became a widow and was left alone with four children after her husband died in a car accident,” remembers Dobbin.

He says that it was virtually impossible for this woman to find a full-time job.

“You need flexible working hours. But how to organise it, if mothers spend so much time travelling in and back from work? ” asked Dobbin. Some wise solution was needed for this situation.

He and his business partner made an original decision to decentralize the work of the company.

Recognized designers from the Baltic states and all over the world design garments, then mothers sew it at their homes when they have a free minute.

“ is a social fashion enterprise. What we do is we teach mothers how to sew clothes which are designed by famous designers. Later we buy these garments from the mothers and sell them to various clothing shops or other businesses. We sell these clothes in Germany, Denmark and other countries,” explained Dobbin.

Working conditions more important than a Ferrari

There is a common belief that a social enterprise makes less profit than an ordinary business. Is that true?

“No one works as a volunteer in the social enterprise. All workers earn their salaries, because such a business has to sustain itself. But the profit you earn is reinvested into the enterprise. If our company earned a million euros next month, I would still receive a salary of a creative director. I cannot take half of the million and buy a gilded Ferrari. It would not only be nonsensical, but also impossible in our company. First, we try to improve working conditions and invest in our company,” Dobbin concluded.

“Socifaction” is a social business accelerator, implemented by the project of the European Union, Making Good Deeds Profitable. The project is organised by NVO Avilys,, Not Perfect Riga, Red Ochre Ltd.

Leave a comment
or for anonymous commenting click here
By posting, you agree to terms
Read comments Read comments