discovering hands is a household name at the Trico Charitable Foundation as one of our favourite examples of a social enterprise that demonstrates a synergistic blend. Based in Germany, this non-profit trains visually impaired women in standardized diagnostic breast exam techniques and then places them in jobs in physicians’ offices or clinics.
We first discovered this amazing social enterprise in the SSIR article Disabilities: A Competitive Business Advantage? where we learned about a woman named Filiz. She is a visually impaired woman from Germany who used to work as an accountant but the job never felt like a perfect fit. When Filiz made the career switch to discovering hands, she found that her unique abilities actually proved to be an advantage.
German gynecologist Dr. Frank Hoffmann, founder of discovering hands, had a revelation one day when he was thinking of visually impaired individuals having a highly developed sense of touch because of their ability to read Braille. Dr. Hoffmann’s hypothesis was verified when visually impaired women found on average 30% smaller tissue abnormalities than during regular exams. They also find 50% more irregularities than their sighted colleagues do. Due to the personal nature of the procedure and to help make the patients feel more comfortable, Dr. Hoffmann has only trained women.
“The earlier a breast tumor is detected, the better it can be treated” says Dr. Hoffmann.
According to the discovering hands website, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers and one of the most common causes of death for women. Almost 70,000 women in Germany develop breast cancer every year. Early detection of breast cancer enables less stressful treatment and significantly improves the patient’s chances of survival. The training of visually impaired women like Filiz to become medical tactile examiners fills a large gap in preventive care. At the same time, it creates a meaningful field of activity for people with disabilities with clear advantages for patients.
In light of the unfortunate circumstances due to COVID-19, discovering hands is now offering virtual courses and are still hiring medical tactile examiners for once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
The Trico Charitable Foundation has found a key predictor of the momentum a social enterprise will have is the way it blends the social and the entrepreneurial. A synergistic blend has the social and the entrepreneurial aspects reinforcing each other. For example, the social model has a role in addressing the customer’s needs and cannot be replaced by a ‘traditional business’. discovering hands is a great example of a synergistic blend (learn more about blending the social and the entrepreneurial here).
Like those they serve, they are successful because of their unique capabilities, not in spite of them. We believe that social entrepreneurs’ and social enterprises should look for opportunities that give their company a strong competitive advantage in the market while also creating meaningful social impact.