360° Coverage : Reality 101 For Dreamers: Four Critical Lessons For Social...

2 Updates
Reality 101 For Dreamers: Four Critical Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

Reality 101 For Dreamers: Four Critical Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs

Jan 6 2014, 12:59pm CST | by

Five years ago, I left the corporate world to pursue a social venture of my own – in this instance, a small consulting firm that chooses its clients carefully and emphasizes long, deep engagements...

Filed under: news


41 weeks ago

Reality 101 For Dreamers: Four Critical Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs

Jan 6 2014, 12:59pm CST | by

Five years ago, I left the corporate world to pursue a social venture of my own – in this instance, a small consulting firm that chooses its clients carefully and emphasizes long, deep engagements and measurable social impact. As my own anniversary passes this week, I’d like to share a few lessons with other social entrepreneurs – lessons that build on not just what I’ve learned over the past five years, but over the last 15 working in (and writing about) the social sector.

These are fairly tough-minded rules, rather than lofty perorations. In my professional work (but not always in my commentary), I tend to focus as much energy on what’s possible within existing social systems as on revolutionary but unworkable ideas. So here than are four big lessons for social entrepreneurs:

1. Choose opportunities carefully

In my experience with social enterprises large and small – including startups, nonprofits, foundations and corporate programs – the single biggest threat to a successful cause isn’t economic uncertainty, but opportunity.

Driven social entrepreneurs live on it, of course. The chance to expand, branch out, fill a service gap, accept a new grant to change your model, act on the last great idea you heard on any given day: this is the siren song of social entrepreneurship. And in our super-connected, data-filled world, almost everything seems possible – and it seems possible now.

Yet time and again, the organizations I’ve worked with – and those I’ve followed closely as a journalist and analyst – succeed via a much slower route. Unlike writing an app or opening a new restaurant, social ventures take time to flower, to build support, to perfect their models, and reach for scale. And quite frankly, that’s how it should be, in most cases. Creating real change in poverty alleviation, or civil rights, or healthcare, or education, or environmental protection means working in already complex social systems – and in the case of nonprofits, with permission to operate without paying taxes, a privilege too often taken for granted.

For established nonprofit organizations – and especially for founders of social ventures – the lure of instant impact can drag an enterprise wildly off course and into rough waters.

2. Attack defeat

Everybody loses. And ever social enterprise stumbles. A grant fizzles, a new program shows no impact or makes a bad situation worse, somebody smart quits, fundraising flops, marketing makes a big misstep, somebody tweets an offensive message – these are everyday failures for most nonprofits and social ventures. And sometimes it’s larger – sometimes, the entire venture goes south and it’s time to close the doors.

But the point of “everybody loses” is exactly that. It means everybody, including all those well-known folks who took their causes to scale and created vast impact – yeah, the people up on stage at CGI and Skoll. What I’ve learned (often the hard way) over the past 15 years is that passivity, resignation, and Kleenex won’t help you when failure hits hard (and it will). From knowledge born of pain I can tell you that action helps, activity soothes, and creativity gets you past it.

So attack defeat. Do the painful post mortem with vigor and intellectual curiosity, stuffing your bruised ego back inside. Speak to people (this may be your board, your partners, your investors, your key partners, your employees), and do some writing. Figure out what went wrong and you own errors – and keep working hard on everything else. That fog will lift more quickly, and as I’ve found repeatedly, how you handle yourself in adverse and painful failure will impact others, and it may lead to new opportunities.

3. Work openly

This is not about organizational transparency or data – this is about your mind. One of the most debilitating afflictions a social entrepreneur can face is the dreaded Blinders Syndrome – the unshakeable belief in a set of ideas and ideals protected by a diamond-like impermeable coating that keeps out intellectual curiosity.

This crowds out both flexibility and your own evolution of thought, and it severely limits knowledge. Yet and the world shifts every day, and given the ease and speed of modern communications, there is always someone else working your side of the street. Listen to what they have to say, be open to new thinking and new research.

Being open means not merely consuming that data; it often means being active in a public (or semi-public) conversation. The digital age rewards thought leadership, particularly for social ventures. It also rewards meetings, even with competitors. In a landscape in which the concept of “collective impact” has taken hold with funders, your social enterprise almost always belongs in a coalition anway.

4. Accept the landscape

This is the hardest lesson of all, especially for committed social entrepreneurs driven by the glorious notion of “changing the world.” Every ad campaign for every great invention tells you that you can. Every motivational speech pushes you to try. Every social commentary highlights those who they say have succeeded. But like a happy retirement that promises a long and secure late life spent in wineries and septuagenarian surfing, it’s largely a pipe dream.

You cannot change the world, at least not on a global basis. Steve Jobs didn’t. Nelson Mandela didn’t. Hillary Clinton, Edward Snowden and Barack Obama won’t. And neither will you.

But you can still make a huge difference – if you work (at least in part) within the built landscape, and not entirely against it. That governments, organizations, corporations and any flavor of human association can be flawed, corrupt, blind and agonizingly slow is a given; don’t waste your time complaining. That’s for isolationists and libertarians, neither highly represented in the social enterprise cohort. Rather seek to plug into the social commons where you can have a real effect, where you – as a communitarian – can move a large part of a small mountain.

In my work as a consultant (and leader of a tiny social enterprise) I know that among the organizations I work with there will be dysfunctional boards, weak messaging, poor donor relations, lousy strategic planning, and less than ideal technology. I’ve learned to say, “so what?” and – if I believe strongly in the cause – work a bit harder to fix the structural issues that are able to be fixed, and concentrate on moving the ball down the field.

Source: Forbes Business


7 weeks ago

Khazanah throws MAS RM6b lifeline

Aug 29 2014 5:01pm CDT | Source: Business Times Singapore

August 30, 2014 1:15 AMKHAZANAH Nasional will inject RM6 billion (SS$2.4 billion) over three years to resuscitate loss-making Malaysia Airlines (MAS) under a recovery plan that includes even an Act of Parliament. Other key moves are migrating its operations, assets and liabilities to a new company (NewCo) and slashing the ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore


7 weeks ago

MAS posts loss of RM307m for Q2

Aug 28 2014 5:00pm CDT | Source: Business Times Singapore

August 29, 2014 1:13 AMMALAYSIA Airlines (MAS) registered a loss of RM307 million (S$122 million) for the second quarter to end-June, but warned of worse to come in the second half when the "full financial impact of the double tragedies of MH370 and MH1 ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore


Don't miss ...


<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.


blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Indians in Gambia contribute to Ebola fight
Dakar (Senegal), Oct 22 (IANS) The Indian community in neighbouring Gambia, one of the three countries in West
Cuba to move UN for lifting of US embargo
New York, Oct 22 (IANS) The Cuban government will submit a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Oct 28 to end an economic, financial and trade embargo the US has imposed on it.
Togo is free from Ebola, asserts PM
Cairo, Oct 22 (IANS) Togolese Prime Minister Kwesi Ahoomey-Zunu has asserted that his country is free from Ebola disease, saying that all preventive measures have been taken on borders, airports and harbours to detect the virus.
Former Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee dead
Washington, Oct 22 (IANS/EFE) Benjamin Bradlee, the man who turned The Washington Post into a global name and made history with the paper's coverage of the "Watergate" scandal, died at his home in Washington DC at the age of 93 from natural causes, the Post reported.

Latest from the Network

European Champions League standings
Paris, Oct 22 (IANS) Following are the European Champions League standings for Groups E to H after Tuesday's matches (tabulated under matches played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, against, points), according to Xinhua...
Read more on Sport Balla
Rogerio set to break Giggs world record
Rio de Janeiro, Oct 22 (IANS) Sao Paulo goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni is one victory away from earning his fourth Guinness World Record by eclipsing a mark held by Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs. The 41-year-old will...
Read more on Sport Balla
Ryan Reynolds can't keep his hands off Blake Lively
Ryan Reynolds was ''really sweet'' to Blake Lively at the Angel City Ball. The couple, who got married in September 2012, made their first red carpet appearance together in New York City on Monday night (10.20.14) since...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
Kris Jenner doesn't know who Bruce Jenner is dating
Kris Jenner has ''no idea'' whether Bruce Jenner is dating her best friend. The 58-year-old reality TV star, who split from the Olympic gold medallist last October after 23 years of marriage, claims she doesn't know if...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
When Rihanna dressed like 'Harry Potter'
New York, Oct 22 (IANS) Singer Rihanna was spotted here in a Harry Potter style costume. She wore the wizard-like get-up while heading for a business meal here Monday, reports mirror.co.uk. The 26-year-old combined a...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
Germany raises humanitarian aid to Iraq
Berlin, Oct 22 (IANS) Germany has pledged a further 20 million euros (about 25.5 million dollars) in humanitarian aid to Iraq, the foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday. The additional funds are immediately...
Read more on Politics Balla
India calls on Israel, Palestine to resume peace process
United Nations, Oct 22 (IANS) India has called upon Israelis and Palestinians to resume the peace process as "dialogue remains the only viable option" to address the issues confronting the region. In a brief statement...
Read more on Politics Balla
Airstrikes help ground forces fight IS: Pentagon
Washington, Oct 22 (IANS) Kurdish forces are in control of the majority of the Syrian city of Kobane despite efforts by the Islamic State (IS) to take the town, a spokesperson for US defence department said Tuesday....
Read more on Politics Balla
Palestine, Israel urged at UN to halt unilateral initiatives
United Nations, Oct 22 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon Tuesday called on Palestine and Israel to overcome differences and halt unilateral initiatives that fuel mistrust, so as to pursue long-term stability in...
Read more on Politics Balla
China urges Israel to create conditions for peace
United Nations, Oct 22 (IANS) Chinese government has called on Israel to create necessary conditions for the resumption of peace talks with Palestine. At an open debate of the Security Council on the situation of the...
Read more on Politics Balla