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Beneficiaries of social enterprises

Tips and tools to profile them

Anyone interested in launching a social enterprise should always define first its social impact mission. During this initial phase, identifying the core beneficiaries inevitably goes along. But what is a “beneficiary”? Are beneficiaries the same as “customers”? And how can we profile beneficiaries the right way?

Beneficiaries and Customers: a brief overview

Traditional businesses usually tend to deal with customers only. Simply put, customers are those people (or companies) who buy a product/service to get benefits out of it. However, as our fellow colleagues from SoJo discussed in this article, social entrepreneurship slightly differs from this logic.

As a matter of fact, social businesses tackle specific social problems and implement different kinds of interventions in order to solve them. Obviously, people who are directly affected by such problems should be the same ones benefitting the most from those interventions. Because of that, beneficiaries are usually defined as those individuals who are directly linked to the social mission of a social organization and who derive the main benefits out of its actions.

Sometimes beneficiaries can afford to pay for the product/service sold by the social enterprise, thus being also its “customers“. However, depending on the context, beneficiaries might be unable to pay for the value they receive. When this occurs to happen, organizations need to get creative. While traditional charities and NGOs tend to rely on donors, social businesses and social enterprises choose instead to create value for (paying) third parties in order to generate income.

profiling beneficiaries, Social Business Design, social business case studies, SEP Jordan, SEP Jordan business model

Just think about SEP Jordan for instance. This social enterprise wanted to employ refugee women from Palestine and Syria, training them to become artisans. But how to do this while remaining financially sustainable? The company found a way to create value for another segment: high-spending, ethics-oriented women, willing to purchase the hand-embroidered accessories crafted by refugees.

This is just one example of mismatch between “beneficiaries” (people at the core a social enterprise’s mission) and “customers” (people/organizations ultimately paying for the intervention). Within the field of social entrepreneurship, this mismatch is quite common. And we have number of case studies analyzing these patterns, just in case you’re interested.

Beneficiaries of social enterprises: tools to profile them

Mapping out your target’s needs is crucial to gain immediate, deeper understanding of the segment you aim to serve. Design Thinking practitioners know it well and developed a variety of tools to do so.

One of the tools most widely used for this purpose is the “Empathy Map“. According to Interaction Design Foundation, an Empathy Map is a “collaborative, visual tool that helps you empathise and synthesise your observations from the research phase“, providing a complete overview on what your target says, thinks, feels and does. Even though Empathy Map was initially developed to address customer segments, it is a great tool to organize the insights collected during interviews with beneficiaries.

beneficiaries of social enterprises
Empathy Map. Template adapted from NNGroup.

Also, through empathy mapping it is possible to build the so-called “Personas“, semi-fictional archetypes representing a certain segment/audience. As a matter of fact, a persona profile includes needs, attitudes, behaviors, as well as key traits and other relevant information (i.e. demographics, geographic location, etc.) shared among people who are part of the same cluster. Again, you can use this tool for both beneficiaries and customers. When Personas are built properly, then it gets easier to design value proposition for every segment you are targeting.. That is why they are so important!

beneficiaries of social enterprises
Personas Template. Template adapted from XTensio.


Empathy Maps and Personas were first conceived to gain deeper understanding of potential customers. Truth is, when it comes to social entrepreneurship, they work great for profiling beneficiaries too. From there, once understood and mapped the key traits of the target you are trying to serve, you can design relevant value propositions accordingly. Please bear in mind this is a fundamental step to make your social impact mission more likely to come true.

Therefore, we believe every social entrepreneur or innovation practitioner should get familiar with all these tools. If you too want to know more about how you could use them, just drop us a message and let’s have a chat! 🙂

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