How Thinking Like a Social Entrepreneur Can Shift the Transgender Movement

Shot of a large group of positive-looking young designers kneeling on the floor looking at blueprints
Shot of a large group of positive-looking young designers kneeling on the floor looking at blueprints

With the high rates of unemployment, homelessness and overall poverty plaguing the transgender community, it is now important more than ever for traditional non-profits to shift their sights toward a group of change makers that are the best equipped to tackle these complex problems: social entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurs are impact-driven change agents that develop business models, products and deliver services that address the needs of the most vulnerable world citizens. Not limited by traditional funding sources, social entrepreneurs seek out support from both the public and private sector to build their enterprises. They also rely on the financial returns of their services for long-term sustainability, making it very clear the importance of profit as being key to large scale change. In a way, social entrepreneurs are committing a form of social alchemy by taking on capitalism and transforming the way it works-and they are making it work for good.

Here are four ways that non-profits focused on transgender advocacy can utilize the core of social entrepreneurial thinking to make a lasting impact for all members of the trans community:

1. Don't just rely on asks: finance it yourself

Like other non-profits, transgender advocacy organizations are stuck in the constant cycle of fundraising based on the form of "asks" with the hopes of meeting their yearly budgets. While some might enjoy this somewhat masochistic form of acquiring money, it limits the amount of funds available to build capacity so that you can grow. To challenge this, non-profits must take on a broader approach to financing their organizations needs by emphasizing the social impact their work makes rather than how much money they need to make a social impact. This can be done by placing a high value on earned income as a necessary part of your organizations mission, with strategic branding, for example, serving as a powerful way to generate revenue for your organization.

A perfect example of this can be seen with the Dallas-based organization, Black Transmen, Inc. A resource for black trans men in the face of the dearth of services available, Black Transmen, Inc., offers fee-based products such as a yearly retreat, apparel, and even a Black Trans Pageantry System, which requires an affordable entry fee for contestants, to financially sustain the organization while simultaneously promoting its mission of healthy development through transition. As a social enterprise focused on transgender advocacy, Black Transmen, Inc. challenges negative assumptions that black trans people are invisible while creating a brand that represents our community as compassionate businessmen and socially driven activists.

2. Make partnerships with organizations that might not have the same mission in order to leverage their resources
Social entrepreneurs believe that without collaboration, a true lasting impact cannot be made in the world. They realize that different sorts of people offer different sources of expertise and resources that when pooled together, can strengthen areas of business that show signs of weakness. Transgender advocacy organizations must begin to look beyond the expected partnerships with other LGBT organizations and start to form strategic partnerships in alternative sectors. This can take many forms, such as seeking out corporate partnerships for funding; forging academic partnerships with local schools/colleges that can provide access to research tools; or working with public interests groups to accelerate policy change.

It can also be the simple act of banding together with organizations focused on different avenues of social change. This could mean partnering with a reproductive justice initiative or an organization focused on racial equality. Ultimately, such partnerships shift the activist narrative to recognize the multiple issues that affect trans individuals.

3. Create programs that empower
Since the goal of transgender advocacy organizations is to eliminate all types of anti-trans discrimination, than it is important for leaders to create programs that seek to empower members of the trans community, so that they can in turn become leaders themselves. For example, the trans economic empowerment fellowship program Who We Know works with talented trans people of color to provide them with the necessary resources to create economic opportunity for the extended community.

Other trans organizations must follow suit and develop programs that empower trans people to take initiative within their communities. This not only improves on the work that your organization does, but it also helps to impact the trans community on a wider scale.

4. Be daring
The most important factor in engaging a social entrepreneurial mindset, is to be daring and creative when it comes to solving our most difficult problems. With the growing visibility of trans people across the globe, it is now important more than ever for advocacy organizations to take the necessary risks that can innovate our activism and move us beyond outdated charitable modes of thinking as a pathway to equality. Our movement severely needs it.