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Café Impact: How-To Figure Out Your Social Entrepreneurship

Jan 9th, 2014Photos & Videos
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Café Impact is democratizing access to careers of conscience. Jonathan Lewis brings together nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs to give you the career-building skills you need to change the world.

“We gain something profound when we stand up for our beliefs, just as part of us dies when we know that something is wrong, yet do nothing….We don’t have to tackle every issue, but if we avoid them all, if we remain silent in the face of cruelty, injustice, and oppression, we sacrifice part of our soul,” Paul Loeb warns in The Impossible Will Take a Little While.

In this video release, social entrepreneurs go off script to talk about how to figure out your social entrepreneurship soul:

Step One for figuring out your social entrepreneurship soul is respecting that, in the blunt words of Yuwei Shi, Dean of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, “social entrepreneurship is not for everyone.”

Step Two is realizing that, in the grounded words of Jacob Harold, CEO of GuideStarUSA, “one can have a moral compass in any field.”

Step Three is appreciating that, in the heartfelt words of Ashwini Narayanan, former CEO of MicroPlace, social change work is “connecting to that love, that authenticity, that underlies everything.”

Unfortunately, the numerous social enterprise competitions which currently populate the social sector have inadvertently polluted, if not poisoned, our collective idea about the soul of social entrepreneurship. The flashy powerpoint, the well-practiced pitch and the poised presenter all too often win out over more modest (but perhaps more realistic) ideas and less charming (but perhaps more solid) management teams.

Social impact investing thought leader Jed Emerson, speaking in 2011 at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, ripped apart the conceit and jargon of social entrepreneurship. His words still haunt and challenge me.

“There is no fixed definition of a social entrepreneur and who cares anyway? It’s time to stop talking about social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is a means, and we are focused too much on it.”

“Deification of the individual social entrepreneur — instead of capacity-building, the team and the requisite community support — is very destructive.”

“Social entrepreneurship is about more than a compelling idea. It is about effective management of total resources. Too often we confuse intent with impact. There are too many great ideas and not enough effective execution.”

“The pressure from funders and social investors to be innovative results mostly in rebranding old ideas. Most social business strategies are incremental improvements, not blinding game changers.”

“We need to end ‘drive-by philanthropic acts’ and stop ‘idea inflation’ where too many people on both sides of the checkbook promote unproven ideas…to ‘let a thousand flowers wither.’”

Social entrepreneurs, above all else, embody and embrace Czech playwright/president Vaclev Havel‘s penetrating reflection:

“Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.”

If you are a change agent, no one is ever going to accuse you of being indifferent. You may be a bumbling incompetent with the absolutely craziest scheme about how to create a better world, but you have dodged Anton Chekhov’s alarming realization that “indifference is a paralysis of the soul, a premature death.”

This blog was originally published at Huffington Post.

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