The domain of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship is entering an inspiring era. Global players such as Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, and Grameen Bank have penetrated everyday conversations across the world. For those not directly involved it is easy to feel like the field has recently sprouted out from nowhere. In fact, the grandfathers of microfinance (along with other less known organizations to be sure) have been creating social change through financially sustainable models for ~30 years.
Like the specific businesses that make them up, all industries go through a life cycle of development, beginning with introduction, followed by growth, maturity, and ending with either decline or re-birth. Now that social change conversations are being held in a much larger spectrum of venues (think of all the post-secondary programs for social entrepreneurship that have recently multiplied across the globe) it’s safe to say the field is nearing the end of the introduction stage of it’s lifecycle, and is ripe to burst into the growth phase.
One of the intriguing opportunities as it evolves into its growth stage is that the Gen Y and Millennial generations are chomping at the bit to get involved in social change.
And here’s where the danger comes in. With some having the conception that social entrepreneurship is a new phenomenon, there is a temptation to jump into new projects without taking the time to take stock of what is currently being done. What has been tried? What has failed? What has worked? Who is working on solving this challenge and how?
There are no new ideas. Ok, so there are innovative improvements on existing ideas that drastically change their applications, thus being refreshed into new ideas. But, the point is: in order to innovate a new idea (one that is economically and socially feasible, scalable, and effectively creates social change) it’s crucial to explore what has already been done.
It’s not just enthusiastic, starry-eyed change makers jumping in too soon. For-profit entrepreneurs perpetually face the same adamant conclusion that “I can do this better”. Often after expending countless resources of time and money putting their idea into action, they are hit with another striking thought – “If only I had known x,y,z before”. For-profit entrepreneurs have worked to solve this challenge through mentorship programs, networking events, conferences, and a full infrastructure of organizations providing entrepreneurial support. Through this network, business owners are able to find those working in similar or complementary fields to exchange valuable knowledge in the subject areas crucial to their success.
The field of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship is soon to be enjoying (if not already) the growth phase of it’s lifecycle. It will be a time of great collaboration, re-working of systems that are currently broken, and surely a massive amount of positive social change. Perhaps we will be looking back on this time in the future with an understanding of a crucial shift in our globe’s collective consciousness for the greater social good. Or, perhaps we will look back on this time as an era of “could have, should have” lost opportunity.
Let’s make sure we take the time to grow our field in a smart way. Let’s respect those who have been pounding the pavement for years by taking the time to listen and learn from them. Let’s be strategic in building the conversations and networks needed to facilitate knowledge exchange between all the dedicated individuals working in social change. Let’s not waste valuable time and money re-inventing solutions that are already working.
Let’s get the growth phase of the social entrepreneurship industry right so we can scale quickly, effectively, and make those lasting changes in society that will improve the lives of so many.
Article originally published here: Social Enterprise World Forum Articles