Preparing for the Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship
class I'm giving this month, I've been researching successful social entrepreneurs
. What are the qualities that enable people like Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus
to build an enterprise that benefits millions of people?
One essential quality that all these world-changers share is the ability to persist at solving a specific problem, regardless of roadblocks and distractions. Muhammad Yunus began his Grameen Bank with only $27 of his own money, and a staff of student volunteers. He persisted with his idea of providing microcredit to help families out of poverty despite opposition from the banking industry, political leaders who opposed his "capitalist" approach to helping the poor, and religious leaders who disapproved of his lending to women. Today the Grameen Bank has loaned money to 7 million people, reaching 80% of the poor families in Bangladesh. But what that took for Yunus was dedication to the same cause for over 30 years.
There are so many causes that one could choose to work for, and they all seem to need us. On any given day, I find myself drawn to acting on behalf of causes as varied as girls' education
, global warming
, Barack Obama's candidacy
for president, and supporting entrepreneurship in the developing world
. Working for the same cause for 30 years seems to me an unreachable ideal. Does that mean I'm not a candidate for social entrepreneurship?
In Tim Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Workweek
, he has a powerful chapter on the topic "Filling the Void: Adding Life After Subtracting Work," in which he says, "Everything out there needs help... If you're improving the world -- however you define that -- consider your job well done... Find the cause or vehicle that interests you most and make no apologies."
I'd like to change one word of Tim's advice. Instead of "the cause," make it "a
cause." If I, or you, or anyone can be a serial entrepreneur
, we can also be serial social entrepreneurs.
For David Bornstein's book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
, he interviewed Fabio Rosa, who has been working tirelessly to bring electricity to rural Brazil since the early 1980's. He asked Rosa why he continues to do this work, and Rosa responded, "I am trying to build a little part of the world in which I would like to live."
Yes, there are many causes to serve and limited time to serve them, but for each of us there is a little part of the world that we can help, sometimes by contributing five minutes and sometimes five years. Dedicated people like Yunus and Rosa can inspire us, but their shining example shouldn't deter us from casting a little light of our own.
Labels: hero stories, social entrepreneurs