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Social Enterprise Gets Real
What do you get when you bring together some earthy do-gooders, a few old hippies, some social entrepreneurs, a group of investors, some amazing locally grown food in a setting deep in the British Columbia woods on a remote island that requires four forms of transportation to get to? A Social Venture Institute experience like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Social Venture Institute (SVI), produced by Renewal Partners from Vancouver, British Columbia is an annual gathering (now in its 17th year) of all of the above—people who make things a little better in the world through social enterprises, nonprofit work or putting their money where their values in social change are. It is the very intersection of where business and social change lives. Having been in this world and work of social change for many years and being a general do-gooder, it was natural to find myself on a tiny 24-seat plane and then a water taxi to arrive on Cortes Island and be instantly greeted by dozens of my tribe.
Put a bunch of these people (144 of them to be exact) into a room and ask them to go deep in discussing their biggest challenges in their work and you get some deep stories that are connected to nearly every single person in the room. No matter how big or small your business is or how green or social it is, there are some common themes that likely connect you to people you didn’t expect.
The social entrepreneur’s story is pretty simple, really. It starts with passion, it builds with learning new skills to make things happen (“I’ll sort it out later!” became a mantra for many of us), and it ends with passion.
At our core, social entrepreneurs have a deep passion for their work and cause: creating meaningful employment for society’s unemployable populations; sourcing from fair trade co-ops in developing countries to help a local economy; educating people on the value of going green; saving the planet through the installation of solar panels on massive buildings in urban centers. Those are passions we cannot deny. My passion is community. And food. I live in a great community that cares deeply about food. I feel “in my place” in New Mexico, and at home in communities with similar passions.
What we all share is a deep desire to “figure things out” in order to get things done. I admit it: I don’t have an economic development background. GASP. Instead I have a background in theatre directing and producing where I experimented with social justice issues on stage. Hmm. Maybe that’s how I got here? And some of us come from finance backgrounds but have no marketing skills, but guess what? Some of us become successful marketers because our passions make us great storytellers. And it turns out telling your true story of success and challenges can be your biggest success story to tell!
I discovered all of this within me on the open night of SVI, sitting in the audience listening to an entrepreneur’s story that felt like my own. I was struck by all of this, and we were all instantly connected. The next day, sitting in a marketing workshop, it was all confirmed for me with the presentation of the core values of social entrepreneurs:
- courage (to tell my story)
- learning for life
And the great brand of successful businesses includes all of the above, too:
- The Story
Does being a social entrepreneur intrinsically make you a social enterprise? If your personal passion is deeply infused in your business, it could be your biggest failure or your biggest success. But what the biggest and most successful social business owners have done is surround themselves with people who know the things they don’t, after falling down, stumbling over mistakes and figuring things out on their own for years. It seems that getting to the great breakthrough of “I am a passionate and capable person with a great idea I know will change the world but I need help NOW” is a turning point for great success.
Here’s what it boils down to: until you get real with yourself about what you know and don’t know, where you’ve failed and where you’ve had success, and what you need to make the big shift, you will stay small, stay stuck, stay stressed. Think about how many people you know who are there right now. Now think about how many of those people could be so much more, do so much more, if only they told their story of what drives them, why they do what they do and what kind of help they need. Social entrepreneurs are working on the hardest of problems from the deepest of their hearts, and traditional business schools of thought often don’t fit for us.
When I returned from SVI I found this quote in a Fast Company magazine online article:
“Entrepreneurship is all about vulnerability. When you meet the ones who are very successful, their mantra is often fail often and fail fast. Clean up your mess, gather up your learnings, and move forward.”
That was immediate validation that what I was thinking and felt in my heart was for real. Some of the biggest and best companies are the most transparent, giving employees full access to the inner workings of the business, getting real, getting vulnerable in order to ensure deep social impact. It is these social entrepreneurs hanging out at the intersection of business and social change that I want to hang out with. How about you?
For information on Social Venture Institute: http://www.renewalpartners.com/collaborations/conferences/social-venture-institute
To read the full Fast Company Article:
Vicki Pozzebon is the owner/principal of Prospera Partners, a consulting group practicing bold localism. Visit www.prosperapartners.org.
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