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April 12, 2023

How to start an impact business? Isabelle Mashola's insights

April 12, 2023

How to start an impact business?

Genesis of the project

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to create an impact business?

I studied engineering and have always been interested in the feminist cause, as I often felt alone in my field. Ten years ago, I created a foundation with the objective of helping women in Africa (Burkina/Cameroon) develop their businesses. After a visit to Yaoundé, I realized that giving money was good, but giving work was even more important.
In January 2017, I created isahit, a TechForGood company that aims to minimize the digital divide among women and provide opportunities to skilled people using the concept of impact sourcing.

Which social missions and SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are you addressing?

We address Sustainable Development Goals 1, 8, and 10 by fighting against inequalities and supporting employment through work and continuous training.

Creation of the company

Choosing the right partner is crucial for entrepreneurs. How did you surround yourself to create isahit?

I think choosing the right partner is crucial for entrepreneurs, and it is important to know each other's strengths and weaknesses to complement each other. To create isahit, I choose to surround myself with people who share the same values as me, such as equality, transparency, benevolence, collaboration, honesty, and communication.

I worked with Philippe (other co-founder of isahit), a partner I have known for a long time, who shares the same values and with whom I am complementary. We tell each other everything that is going well or not, which allows us to move in the right direction and to find solutions to resolve problems.

Are there any structures that support impact projects?

I find that it is more difficult to raise funds when you are an impact company, and unfortunately even more difficult when you are a woman. However, I notice that this is changing gradually, and it is a good thing. It is important to stay vigilant and to seek support structures for impact projects to maximize the chances of success.

Development of the company

How do you ensure that your business remains true to its impact mission?

To ensure that our company remains true to its impact mission, every year, we use the services of an external firm (Kimso) to measure isahit's impact on its stakeholders, especially our HITers. We also obtained BCorp certification with a high score (114) in December 2021, which allowed us to revise our processes to accelerate our impact, mainly with the creation of the Isahit Digital Academy in 2021, which supports employment through training, and through programs aimed at helping our community, such as the Isahit Help program, funded at 5% of our revenues.

What is your approach to collaborating with stakeholders, especially your community of women, clients, and employees?

Regarding our approach to collaborating with stakeholders, we have changed our status to include our 'Raison d'Être'. These elements guide us in our relationships with our various stakeholders.

With our clients, we strive to offer a differentiating approach based on agility, flexibility, quality, an adaptable model, a good understanding of their needs, and the expertise of our community. We also work closely with them to understand their expectations and help them to achieve their goals.

With our community of women, we focus on transparent and honest communication. We host regular sharing and training forums to support our community and create inspiring role models. We believe that trust is earned through constant support and authentic interactions.

Finally, when it comes to our employees, Philippe and I strive to listen to our teams, encourage them to be a force of proposal and share as much as possible with them. We are proud of the commitment of our teams and we work every day to maintain a positive and collaborative corporate culture.

How do you balance the social impact and financial profitability of your business?

For me, it is essential to maintain a balance between the social impact and financial profitability of our business. That is why we seek to elevate the discussion and raise awareness among our stakeholders about the challenges of this equation.

We believe that the more revenue we generate, the more we can support our community. However, we know that profitability may take longer to achieve when running a social impact business. At isahit, we have chosen to target a profitable growth, thus aligning our financial figures with our impact KPIs. We also aim to educate our stakeholders about the expected efforts required to maintain this balance, even if it can be challenging at times.

What are the most significant challenges you have faced in creating your impact-driven business?

At the beginning of our journey, I had to fight to make people understand that technology can serve social impact. Some people believe that technology cannot be used for social impact. This was a significant challenge for us.I had to explain how technology could be beneficial to our social impact mission.

Our platform allows people from all over the world to work remotely, providing them with a source of income and enabling them to overcome poverty. Thanks to our horizontal organizational model, we have succeeded in offering work to hundreds of women who were blocked by the pandemic.

Another major challenge was to remain humble and surround ourselves with the right people to share challenges and solutions. We understood that together we are stronger and can overcome any challenge!

How does your company envision the long-term evolution of its social impact?

Our goal is to provide work for 10,000 people within the next 3-4 years. To achieve this, we have recently expanded our presence in France, which demonstrates the scalability of our model and its ability to meet a real social need. Furthermore, the creation of the Isahit foundation will accelerate our impact by offering external stakeholders the opportunity to support our fight against the digital divide.

What advice would you give to other impact-driven entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses?

My advice to impact-driven entrepreneurs is to go for it if they are convinced of their cause and ambition, as it takes passion to accomplish great projects!

Surround yourself with the right people, those who share your values and vision, to support you and help you move forward.

Making an impact is essential, but you also need to measure that impact to assess the results and continue to progress ! That is why we have decided to soon calculate our SROI.

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