Even the most potent idea will be watered down to nothing if you put it in a turbulent sea.
Social Delta is in the business of helping organizations and individuals create business solutions to social problems. We believe in social entrepreneurship as one possible, powerful tool to sustainably create change. But we don’t believe in fads nor do we believe that social change happens because one person thinks that they have developed a quick fix.
Increasingly, we meet and work with young people (ages 14-40) wanting to become social entrepreneurs out of a sense of disenfranchisement in the free market economy, buffeted about by political fictions and misinformation, and feeling either beaten or inspired by their perception of the world going off the rails.
When we work with these new, or aspiring, social entrepreneurs, we want them to grasp a few basic concepts before they launch into their dream career:
- Be ready to work harder than ever. Social entrepreneurship is hard work and 99% of the time has very little glamor. Starting and maintaining any business is hard, but starting and maintaining a business with a non-negotiable social bottom line is very hard work.
- You are not the solution. Social change can be catalysed by individuals, but it is created by many people, often working in an imperfect cauldron of partnership, competition and collaboration.
- Anything you can think of has (likely) been thought of before. Our best piece of advice for new social entrepreneurs is: study what others have done and are doing to address the social concern that is the foundation of your business. It is shocking what an internet search will reveal. Years of study and learning about the issues and the root causes of the social problem are often necessary for you to truly understand why the issue is so hard to solve. Sometimes it is better–as in more effective–to join and existing team of passionate social actors than to create your own business.
- Be prepared for the long haul. An app will not solve plastic waste problems. A year of selling coffee will not save a youth at risk from addictions. A single day hack-a-thon (sic) will not solve poverty in your community. Intractable social problems are called intractable for a reason: they often have no quick or easy solution. If you are choosing a career in social enterprise, you will more than likely need to devote multiple years (perhaps a lifetime) to realize the change you envision. We live in a world motivated by expediency, but social change of any sort doesn’t happen overnight…even with a business mindset.
- Don’t be fooled by success stories. Every social enterprise is on the knife edge of survival, and success is both a relative term, and a difficult status to maintain. Rather than lauding the successes of contemporaries, learn from their daily challenges and seek to maximize your own social impact.
- Measure what you are doing. From day one, set measurable social goals and evaluate if you are doing the best you can to address the social problem that inspires your business. Measurement has to include both business indicators like sales or inventory levels, but more important is to set social goals and measure if you are getting close to them. If not, you’ll likely need to change your operational (business) decisions to ensure that your social mission is, in fact, being served best.
We recommend that every new social entrepreneur read a recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article entitled “Tackling Heropreneurship.” The author expresses concern that social enterprise is becoming so fashionable that it is—like a potent idea in a turbulent sea—being watered down by those who want fame, fortune and a better world crafted by their own hands.
Building a social enterprise requires a balance of egotism and altruism. You need to be self-confident, committed, and something of an idealist. However, at the same time, you need to be humble, patient, collaborative and willing to rely on the efforts of others.
Social entrepreneurship should be considered less of a career and more of a calling, and in our experience, academic institutions, media, government and intermediary organizations are increasingly spouting that entrepreneurship is THE new tool for solving social problems. As a result, many of our most idealistic young colleagues are not fully understanding the social fabric that needs to be changed before they embark on their personal entrepreneurial journey to change it.