Every day, I hear about one of the following:
- An individual's deep desire to find meaningful work -- where she can practice her craft and change the world for the better.
- A new conference, accelerator, incubator, or thought leader group, designed to foster social entrepreneurs.
Let's get real people -- all this dreaming and thinking isn't going to magically create something. You know what does? Action. And you know what's especially hard to take action on? Really complex problems with no road map and no history of how things are done.
Because social entrepreneurs are shaking things up. More so than your typical entrepreneur as they aren't just solving for capital flowing -- they are changing how the world is run. A co-working space does not solve the problem of poverty or disenfranchised civic engagement, or how we get our energy in city centers.
Being a social entrepreneur is one of the most difficult and least traveled roads of our time. They need an entirely different support system than those we have created for the businesses that came before.
An accelerator/incubator/co-working space/workshop/conference serves a similar purpose -- to bring like minded people together around similar ideas over a set period of time. And the corresponding inspiration, lead generation and partnerships that result do help grow a business.
But the most important thing for a social entrepreneur is to create a new business model in line with their vision, which maintains the integrity of their mission throughout. And none of those structure help people slog through the nitty gritty of big complex problems with limited resources.
Here's what social entrepreneurs really need:
1. New capital structures that support long term thinking and business operations
- When problems are complex, they take longer to solve. Social entrepreneurs are solving more difficult problems than anyone else as they take into account a much bigger picture.
- An example -- Nutiva now leads in several organic food categories after 10-plus years of operation. The founder can recount stories of nearly going out of business every year for five years as they built their supply chain to nurture and develop local farmers. What did he live on? Passion and the generosity of others. So capital holders -- how about being a bit more generous?
2. Development of deep empathy.
- A social entrepreneur works with people who are likely different from them. As complex problems involve multiple stakeholders across industries, disciplines and continents, at least one group will have different language, cultural understanding, education, resources and frame of reference for how business is done.
- As an example, let's look at the good folks at LendUp -- a YCombinator backed tech solution for predatory lending practices to the poor. They are doing incredible work, yet I doubt any of their team members came from the same community they are serving. Good thing they have heaps of empathy, and a desire to make the world a better place.
3. Tools and training that support focus and deep insight into a particular problem.
- Focus! Focus! Focus! It's the mantra I say to any entrepreneur. Complex problems lead to heading down any number of interesting roads. But then nothing gets solved and no direction is decided. Social entrepreneurs need to stick their head deep in the dirt and talk to the grubs and whatever else is there. Give them tools to turn their internal volume way up and the noise around them down. Then pass these on to me... and everyone else.
4. Connection to a global world-view of like-minded problem solvers.
- Here's where an incubator or accelerator approach could help -- social entrepreneurs need connections. However, they need these connections to be incredibly specific and focused on those who have solved problems like them. As there aren't a lot of them. And remember that wide arc of stakeholders? When all those solving a similar, focused problem are brought together and made a tribe, then change can happen.
- Note for accelerators and incubators -- don't be everything to everyone. Be something very specific for a very small set of people.
5. Support to do things differently -- and guidance for when it's ok to keep things the same.
- Every entrepreneur needs support, and a lot of it. Sometimes it's the lifeline to stability and a feeling of normalcy among chaos. Social entrepreneurs need rebels, as well as everymen to stand beside them as the advice is when to stand with a crowd and when to break out. The Heretic does an incredible job with this. Social Entrepreneurs need more tools to evaluate advisors and have recommendations on the right ones -- the ones who have been there before and are willing to work and fight alongside.
So as you are thinking up your next great idea to change the world for good, perhaps focus on one of the above. We don't need hot air, just kindling to put on the embers to start this fire.