By Martin Montero
For the past 15 years of my life, I have very heavily invested a great deal of my time, energy and money into the field of social entrepreneurship with a firm belief that we needed to take very significant and powerful actions to end, or at least severely diminish, poverty. The clearest path toward greater economic equality is to fundamentally increase the financial and political power the disenfranchised have in very direct, clear and quantifiable ways so that they may climb out of poverty by creating wealth. This practice is the foundational cornerstone of social entrepreneurship.
Over the years, social entrepreneurship has greatly expanded in popularity and I have seen all sorts of individuals, teams and organizations join our ranks to create what is starting to form into an ecosystem. I’ve observed the term “social entrepreneurship” used in all sorts of ways to describe all sorts of things, (including people and companies who have nothing to do with this space calling themselves social entrepreneurs and social enterprises simply because they use social media as a business tool).
Many other people and companies misappropriate or confuse the term as a clever marketing tool, for their corporate social responsibility, or business’s charitable giving and/or philanthropic efforts. Many of these things are well intentioned and some even have good impact and make a difference in the lives of folks and their communities. Yet, the fact of the matter is none of this is actual social entrepreneurship.
Well, for the past three months I’ve been having lots of conversations here in Philly, which is chock full of social, economic, political and environmental problems, defining specifically what social enterprise is, what is its goal and what exactly is the change that it was created to foster and what it looks like. Then I ran into this awesome Norman Rockwell painting that illustrates the point very well. Rockwell successfully uses art for transformational change. When done properly, that social entrepreneurship can have the same impact. To expound further, that painting correlates with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Strength to Love.
This philosophy and practice is very much what my role model and hero, Muhammad Yunus, put into place when he created Grameen Bank. Yunus spent 30 years of his life working as an employee of Grameen, accountable to the owners and board members who were the bank customers, and the disfranchised women he set out to help. He did it before micro credit/finance became sexy. He did this as a highly esteemed economics professor with a very comfortable life and social standing in his community and caught a ton of criticism, laughs, naysayers and attacks for it at first from various angles, not just the loan sharks but even the do-gooders and the general population as well as his friends, family and colleagues.
Because his work and vision were a cultural soci-economic revolutionary act which did not “make an impact” but created a transformational force that empowered a generation of women beggars (basically unwanted property in that culture) to become entrepreneurs with agency and control of their lives and their destiny. The effects reverberated to their next generation, who were able to attend school and be better off than them.
It is up to this and the coming generations of social entrepreneurs and those they work with to improve on his model and keep on partnering with the world’s disenfranchised so they can keep building even more soci-economic wealth for themselves and their prosperity. That is transformational power that which social entrepreneurship was created to foster.
[Image credit: The White House, Flickr]