Social entrepreneur: how to combine social impact and business performance

In a new blog, our CEO JF Cecillon talks about the continuities and crossovers when moving from a career in music, culture and publishing to building a fast-growing and dynamic social enterprise.

In April last year, I decided to take my career in a new direction. After years of heading up businesses in the music, publishing, gaming, live events, digital space and art sectors, I started a new venture and became CEO of AFDP Global, the international football social enterprise that works to transform lives, unite communities and create greater transparency and integrity in world football.

Although this has been a significant transition, I’ve formed the view that social entrepreneurship is not inherently different from entrepreneurship in any other sector.

After all, a social enterprise is essentially a business, albeit one with the primary function of achieving a positive social impact and sustainability as key objectives.

In addition, irrespective of whether your business exists to achieve a social purpose or not, the challenges that entrepreneurs face are the same business performance requirements: identifying needs in the market, assessing risks, executing a well-defined business plan, building a distinctive brand and establishing a reputation for excellence.

I am unashamed that AFDP Global operates in a commercial way and I am very familiar with the challenges of steering a rapidly growing organisation.

At the same time, as a social enterprise, I want AFDP Global to be known by individuals who share the organisation’s values and who believe in football as a uniquely powerful way to provide life-changing opportunities, particularly for the benefit of women and children.

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There is already a compelling story to tell about the power of football to achieve social impact. We inherited a legacy from our Founder HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, whose track-record in football leadership shows beyond doubt that football is so much more than a game. Prince Ali’s pioneering work has given rise to football projects across Asia and the Middle East that have already impacted the lives of more than 80,000 young people.

Prince Ali has tasked me and my team to build on that legacy and develop a truly global organisation which is not afraid of disrupting the conventional modus operandi. My career up to this point has focused on scaling up businesses and I want to offer that experience to partner-organisations eager to increase or deepen their social impact.

I have been in conversation with a number of business leaders who recognise the importance of the interplay between football and social enterprise. 

The ‘football for good’ space is replete with projects and initiatives that have been set up to help people and communities. It is also true that donations to charitable projects can be difficult to track. 

For me, this is completely at odds with my experience in business. If you are investing for social impact, you should be able to see, in granular fashion, how every pound, dollar and euro has been used to deliver that impact. 

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I believe the only way to achieve this on a global scale is to run an effective social enterprise. That is why, despite my move to the social sector, I am staying true to principles of entrepreneurship that have been instrumental in my career. 

If you want partners, donors and citizens of the world to give time and money, they need to be proud of what they are contributing to and fully aware of the social return on their investment. Trust and accountability are critical.

That is why I am proud to be leading a growing social enterprise that is absolutely committed to tight monitoring and evaluation. Anyone who wants to join us by supporting our work can be assured beyond any doubt – we are working with integrity and with a clear social purpose.

Ultimately, the success of our model will be defined by its sustainable impact on people and communities.