Introducing the Social Business Model Canvas

| No responses | Posted by: Stuart Thomason | Theme: Social Innovation & Investment

Early stage ventures can often find themselves floundering when it comes to articulating their business proposition. Social ventures frequently have even greater difficulty as they struggle to communicate both a solid business idea and a social value proposition.

In 2009 I was lucky enough to be introduced to the business model canvas via a connection with Sophie Bustamante and Mamading Ceesay as they were establishing London Creative Labs. And I consider the session I subsequently spent with Alex Osterwalder as the most valuable learning experience in my professional career to date.

Since then, it has formed an integral part of how I deliver venture support at UnLtd and more recently here at The Young Foundation. With the start of our Spring 2013 Accelerator programme this week I have been reflecting that we have now used the principles of the business model canvas to help over 1,000 social ventures to design new business models and innovate ‘old’ ones.

I consider it to be a game-changer in terms of simplifying and de-jargoning the business modelling process and enabling creative thinking to inform, dare I say enlighten, any business planning process. If you haven’t used it on your own business yet I encourage you to download the free tool now.

The rise of using design methods / thinking in the support of social ventures has been very welcome, as we are no longer faced with the rather depressing option of long, text-heavy planning exercises with extensive spread-sheets, logical frameworks and overpaid business consultants to help us understand them. Instead we have quicker, more strategic, conversations with the people that really matter – the customers.

What has been really interesting for me to think through is how in the social venture marketplace there are often two distinct customer segments to satisfy – those who ‘pay’ for the product and service (often commissioners in the public sector) and those who may use or benefit from the service for free (often disadvantaged members of society).

In my experience a social venture requires a business model which allows them to clearly demonstrate two key principles:

1. That they understand the external influences that affect the decision-making process of commissioners / social investors who will be using state funds to shape their marketplace
2. That they have a rigorous appreciation of the unmet social need that they will address

It was our belief that an iteration of the business model canvas was required for us to support social ventures, one which enables them to tell a compelling story about their social impact, the market it operates in, their financial performance and their implementation plan. So in summer 2013 we created the social business model canvas to underpin the taught curriculum of the accelerator programme.


The social business model canvas (#socbmgen) is free to download under a creative commons license. Iterations are welcomed.

We hold monthly social business model sessions at our offices in Bethnal Green. The next one is being held on May 23rd at 6pm. You can book your place here.

You can join in the conversation on twitter via @YFAccelerator or email us at

The social business canvas was developed by the Ventures team at the Young Foundation for the Accelerator programme in conjunction with Lucy Kimble at Field Studio.


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