A very talented emerging social entrepreneur asked me recently what valuable lessons I had learned over the years of working with project leaders affiliated with Community Partners. Here’s the answer I gave him:
I’ve learned that good social enterprise ideas are worthless without meaningful, sustained investment on the part of a caring, careful and exceptionally resourceful champion. I’ve learned that capital sufficiency at start-up matters hugely because, in the realm of social enterprise, nothing distinguishes a successful venture from a marginal one more than simple “time on the ground” and a visible, sustained presence at the civic table. I’ve learned that the best social entrepreneurs have a nose for niches; they see opportunity in the social gaps and interstices that most of us ignore but which to them signal unmet community need. I’ve learned to appreciate that the best social entrepreneurs carry around with them a profound and sweeping grasp of the “system context” into which they are striving to introduce a new idea, a change or a fix. The best social entrepreneurs rarely try to change whole systems all at once. Rather, they work where they have the most influence and build “credibility capital” over time that they then leverage in changing other parts of the system. I have also learned that social entrepreneurs come in the full range of personality types. Often, the most effective social entrepreneurs behave with singular, razor-sharp focus and do not suffer fools lightly. They tend toward impatience bordering on arrogance and can present an obstinate, fierce face to a world they believe will resist every attempt at change. These harsher, somewhat intolerant features notwithstanding, they are also some of society’s most ardent, concerned and committed humanitarians capable of deep compassion for righting wrong and making our world a fit place that all of us can share.
All times – and certainly these times – demand we keep them in steady supply.