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Monday, 09 April 2012

Five ‘internal’ challenges to social entrepreneurship

There is a tendency to focus on the external threats to social entrepreneurship; for example, the feeling that government and politicians are useless, that multinational corporations care only about their quarterly reports, etc.

 

In so doing, we often forget to evaluate the internal threats to social entrepreneurship, in other words the things that we, as social entrepreneurs, do wrong.

 

Focusing on these ‘internal factors’ – over which we have direct control – represents the best starting point for creating the change that we want to bring about in society.

 

1) Profit

Have you ever asked a social entrepreneur whether he or she is making a profit? In most cases you’ll get only an ambiguous answer. Buy why do social entrepreneurs find questions about their profits embarrassing? Perhaps it is because there still exists the notion that ‘personal profit’ is somehow inconsistent with positive change in society. Unless we manage to overcome this taboo, we’ll never be able to instigate any significant change.

 

2) Openness

Social entrepreneurship is about changing the world, right? If so, the question that arises next is: Is it possible to change the world alone? The answer to this is unequivocally ‘no.’ The problems our society faces today are not isolated challenges but rather composite issues characterised by interconnected cause and effect dynamics. And again, at a time when we are still framing business competition as a zero sum game, one of the consequences is that we don’t share our insights openly as we fear someone else might decide to copy our model.

 

3) Risk

Too many entrepreneurs are still looking for a ‘how to’ book or a dummies guide; in other words, a ‘ready to go’ map coursing the path to success. What they fail to see is that the essence of entrepreneurship is the creation of your own map. You have to risk navigating without a map. You have to be romantic, artistic. If you don’t want to take any risks, and you’re not ready to expose yourself to failure, you are not innovating; you’re not bringing society to the next level. At best, all you are doing is applying someone else’s ideas more efficiently. If this is the case, you are not an entrepreneur.

 

4) Strategy

Challenging the status quo is the first step an entrepreneur must take. You have to show the rest of the world what it is that you think is broken. Merely being reactive and opportunistic is not enough. You need to be strategic. How are you going to build a unique value proposition in the long term? Being a good entrepreneur ‘sui generis’ is insufficient. Social entrepreneurship requires clarity. We need to move to the next level; a level that is fundamentally based on a clear competitive advantage.

 

5) Perfection

Last but not least, too many potential entrepreneurs will never become entrepreneurs because they delay getting started until they have first achieved perfection. The main lesson here is that no one was born to be an entrepreneur. We were all born to be only ourselves, and it is in the process of being ourselves that we discover who we are and how that will enable us to define the social impact we’ll make on society. DO NOT WAIT to become perfect, instead work every day to discover who you are. We are waiting for you to tell us how you are going to make a difference.