The Challenges of Social Entrepreneurship
I’ve been involved in entrepreneurship most of my working life. I’ve run several businesses of my own and several belonging to others. I’ve started and worked on many social entrepreneurship projects, my own and others. I’ve consulted to entrepreneurs and on entrepreneurship and I’ve even taught it.
It’s a topic that fascinates me. I will always take an interest in any project – business or social – that I come across. Why did this start? What’s it all about? What are the owner’s/founder’s goals and aspirations? What do they see is their purpose in life and how does their project contribute to it?
Social entrepreneurship differs from for-profit entrepreneurship in being premised first and foremost on a set of social values and prospective social outcomes. (Many for-profit businesses may also operate on social values but these are generally secondary, and of course in many businesses they are absent altogether.)
The challenges of social entrepreneurship can sometimes seem greater than those of normal business. People can have opinions of someone else’s social venture, and even the social entrepreneur personally, in ways they don’t presume with another’s for-profit business.
above: ShopArtArtShop artist Gargi Chandola explains her project with traditional Indian miniature art to me.
Frank Schlictmann’s SHOPART project is no exception. The project is premised on an interesting mix of values:
- Particularly art that occurs outside of the mainstream Indian art scene with its ‘rules’ and egos and navel-gazing.
- Developing young artists. Art education in India tends to lack opportunities for real engagement and artistic growth, that I’m aware is more the case in New Zealand for example, and I’m sure many other parts of the Western world. SHOPART gives a group of young artists an opportunity to explore their art outside the confines of mainstream contemporary Indian art.
- Developing an understanding of village life. Participants are all city-dwellers, and before the notion that they are here to make a contribution to the village, they are first here to learn from the village. How extraordinary is it that someone would create a context for young people to have that experience?!
- Making some unique contribution to the village that has in large part to do with fun and entertainment.
- I’ve no doubt, in Frank’s case, exposing his young son to art, creativity and an eclectic mix of people; this was certainly a factor in my own parenting.
Development and continuity of social projects, as with any business, is based firstly on the vision and commitment of the founder, and secondly on the good will of many others and their ability to group around the founder’s vision.
left: 3-minute video artist, Amrit Vatsa – see 3 minute stories on Facebook
The SHOPART artists are not paid for their month-long contributions, although they receive accommodation (more basic than most are used to it) and meals. The latter, far from ‘basic’, has been delicious, and that itself has been provided by a team of volunteers and Frank’s own house staff and extended family. Others are providing their services in IT and administrative support, also for free.
Without these many collaborators, there would be no project. Cooperation and collaboration are key drivers in social entrepreneurship and in the values that drive it. When participants exercise these, we all grow and develop, as do the projects we touch.
It’s a sad phenomenon though that the social entrepreneur will frequently be criticised for not always living up to some people’s models of social value. I’ve seen social entrepreneurs attacked for their values more than the worst of Wall Street businesses. If you have no values to start with, the self-righteous won’t find half as much to criticise you about as they will the business for social good, that has a lengthy set of powerful values and social successes, that may occasionally not live up to every moral imperative the righteous passer-by may happen to notice.
Given the strength of his personality and intellect, it’s not hard to imagine that Frank’s pissed a few people off in life. Assuming a foundation of social values though, myself I’ve tended to live my life with the motto that if you’re not pissing someone off you’re not making a difference.
No one is paying attention until you make a bad move.
It’s rarely if ever the case that the social entrepreneur goes out of his or her way to piss anyone off. But it is wise to accept that one will just the same. In my experience this is almost always to do with the journey of the pissed-off rather than the pisser-offer. Even if the latter’s view of things can provide some additional value, few things in life are black and white and at any rate you can almost always be more effective at change when you avoid emotional reactions. Social values are a moving feast and best viewed with an open, flexible and progressive lens.
There is a wonderful camaraderie among the participants here. More than half are in their 20s, the rest mostly 40s and 50s. People are enjoying each other and the project, sharing their art, learning from each other and the village. Most would happily participate all over again. Everyone will leave here having had a unique art experience; I hope they also leave with an experience of how to make an idea happen, which is the definition of entrepreneurship, social or otherwise.
I hope also they will see that the constant juggling of different imperatives, different points of view, different values… firstly is massive, and secondly occurs within the context of maintaining and developing the founder’s vision, which in this case is wholly unique. (Notwithstanding that that vision will also naturally grow and develop.) Different points of view in life are not always put forward in a manner that respects that vision, and this is the challenge, and correspondingly the strength, of the social entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship often operates at the cutting edge of new ideas. It’s exciting. It’s a journey. When we have the unique opportunity to participate we have an obligation to respect the journey and learn from it.