A strong business model is essential—but it’s not enough

The Business Model Canvas.

At World Vision Canada Impact Investing, we work closely with entrepreneurs in all of our programs—and many, whether in Canada or elsewhere, don’t necessarily have formal business experience.

That’s why, as part of both the Social Innovation Challenge and our Small and Growing Business programs, we use something called the Business Model Canvas, a simplified business planning tool that’s accessible to anyone.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

Designed by Swiss business theorist Alexander Osterwalder, the Business Model Canvas is a one-page “snapshot” of how a business makes money and spends money.

It includes nine elements:

  1. Customer segments
  2. A value proposition for each customer segment
  3. Channels, through which products get to customers
  4. Relationships with customers
  5. Key resources
  6. Key activities
  7. Key partnerships
  8. Costs
  9. Revenue streams

Business Model Canvas

As you can see, once the canvas is filled out, all of a business’s activities, assets and partnerships are laid out on a single piece of paper.

This structure works for traditional businesses as well as social enterprises, which is why we use it in so many of our programs. The shortlisted teams in the Social Innovation Challenge are taught to ask probing questions and dive deep into each of the nine elements to ensure they aren’t making assumptions about their customers, channels, or potential revenue streams. We also use it with the business owners who receive loans from the Small and Growing Business Bond, to strength their business models and bolster the sustainability of their companies.

We encourage teams to fill out the canvas from right to left—starting with their customers and moving along from there.

“It was a huge catalyst for us,” said Hussein Hassanali of EmpowerEQ, winner of the 2017 Social Innovation Challenge people’s choice award. “Sarah [Tinsley] at the World Vision office … she taught us everything from doing the business model canvas … to how to actually prepare for this field research, and the considerations for the product.”

Impact Gaps Canvas 

Participants in the Social Innovation Challenge aren’t just building businesses, thoughthey’re coming up with innovative solutions to social problems. That’s why simply having a cogent business model isn’t enough. 

To take our teams to the next level, we coach them to use the Impact Gaps CanvasIt looks like this: 

Neither canvas is more important than the other, but using both is critical to ensuring that business objectives and impact metrics are in synchronistic balance in the final model. Once teams identify opportunities for impact, those should be woven seamlessly into the systems of their Business Model Canvases.  

Want to see these canvases in action? Come to the 2019 Social Innovation Challenge! For more details, click here