Social Enterprise Series: Finding a Meaningful Problem to Solve

UWE Enterprise
6 min readJun 30, 2021


Many interesting and promising entrepreneurial opportunities emerge from exploring the world around us. Problems, challenges and opportunities for change arise in all communities. You will want to understand early on in the process whether you are going to work on addressing the symptom of a problem or the root cause of the issue.

Start by revisiting what you are passionate about working on, what you are excited to solve and consider what kind of impact you want to make in the world? How have your personal experiences influenced your thinking?

There are many ways of identifying real-world challenges some of which we list below. You will often be able to combine your existing passions and skills with a real-world problem, other times you may want to learn and develop a whole new set of skills. However, a good place to start as you begin to map out the impact you want to make would be to consider these basic questions:

What is the real need for the idea I want to work on?

Some initiatives are ‘good deeds’ which represent ‘wants’ more so than genuine societal or environmental ‘needs’. Focusing on ‘needs’ provides an opportunity for meaningful impact whereas working on ‘wants’ tends to produce short-term, surface-level results.

What do I already know about the problem and how can I fill any gaps in my understanding?

No one person knows everything! Often the problems you want to solve will be complex and there will be different perspectives on how to deal with them. To truly understand a challenge you will need to learn from a number of different stakeholders who are affected by the issue.

Are other people already working on this? If so, am I aiming to support this work or looking to do it better than existing solutions?

Chances are somewhere in the world someone is working on solving a similar challenge to the one you want to work on. This provides opportunities for learning but also leaves you with a decision to make on whether you are going to pursue a path of ‘collaboration’ or ‘competition’. This will depend on your idea and individual circumstance, but it is important to note there is almost never one perfect way to solve anything. Thinking creatively about how you can work with others may present you with some unique and innovative solutions.

This worksheet from the Social Enterprise Institute can help you with the process of defining the problem you are solving.

1) Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries — developed and developing — in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

These goals provide a valuable starting point for any social enterprise as they allow you to frame your challenge in a global context and provide a shared narrative to explain the impact you intend to make. Each of the 17 Goals are broken down into a further set of Targets and Indicators which serve as a method of tracking progress towards achieving these goals. For the social entrepreneur, each of these targets provides an insight into the real issues facing both society and the planet over the next decade. You can read the SDG Report (2020) here to develop your understanding of the progress being made in these areas.

2) Market Research

Begin compiling research into existing solutions in the field you want to work in. This can come through looking at existing social enterprises, charities and community projects locally, nationally and internationally. This is valuable in generating new insights into what is working already and can spark ideas on how you might implement a solution. For example, an innovative solution being deployed in another country can be adapted to work in a new location.

You can also use the UWE Bristol’s Library search to find journals, books and leading research on the problem you are intending to work on. The more understanding you can develop on a topic the better placed you will be to make a meaningful impact.

Desktop research is your first step but over time you will want to consider how you can progress to undertake primary research by contacting the organisations you have discovered. This enables you to gather additional insights into their activity that can help to shape your own model.

Some helpful sites to get you started:

3) Official Reports

In today’s society data drives much of our activity, playing a pivotal role in influencing the strategic direction that organisations, governments and companies take. As you attempt to build your knowledge of a particular challenge by understanding the real need, solutions already in existence and considering the possible future scenarios you will come across literature that has been developed by key stakeholders. One such example was shared above from the United Nations in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Industry-leading companies, non-profits, think tanks, governments, councils and thought leaders all produce reports and papers that can be used to build knowledge around chosen topic areas. In turn, this helps you decide on a future direction for your idea.

Some helpful sites to get you started:

4) UWE Bristol

As a student at one of the UK’s leading universities, you are surrounded by academics, experts and practitioners who are experienced in nearly all fields of work. At UWE Bristol, we’re focused on solving future global challenges through outstanding learning, world-leading research and a culture of enterprise. As such a valuable exercise as you start your new social enterprise or project is to consider how you can leverage the expertise at UWE to support you on your journey.

If the social enterprise you are starting relates in some way to your programme of study, be sure to reach out to your lecturers and tutors to discuss your ideas. Alternatively, you can find out more about research carried out at UWE here and consider making contact with the relevant staff member. Beyond your academic contacts make use of the Library to research your chosen problem area.

UWE and the SU at UWE also have a range of options for you to explore when getting your idea off the ground such as Student Ventures,[4)%20UWE%20Bristol] Enactus, Volunteering and the Green Team.

Some helpful sites to get you started:

5) Connect with Organisations, Experts and Likeminded Individuals

We’ve discussed desktop research and what is available to you on campus, it is now time to think about building your knowledge and networks beyond the campus. To successfully develop an idea you will need to engage and form relationships with people beyond your existing networks. This will require you to go outside of your comfort zone but the good news is there are many people out there that will share your vision for a better world.

Start by exploring what events and activities you can get involved in. Everything from workshops, talks and networking events through to volunteering (whether these be online on in-person) will improve your knowledge, build connections with others and ultimately take you one step closer to your goal of delivering a meaningful impact.

To find relevant events you can search websites, sign up for newsletters and follow the social media accounts of causes, organisations and activists that matter to you. For more specific connections you may want to email people directly or connect with them through social media. LinkedIn is especially good for this. Be clear on what you are looking for and develop a sentence or two that sums up who you are and what you want to do in the world. This will come in handy both when reaching out to people and when you find yourself at networking events.

Some helpful sites to get you started:



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