Thanks to Ms. Dorsey of Echoing Green, I finally have a name for what ails me: a “wonderful obsession” with building Memphis into a City of Choice via talent retention, entrepreneurialism, and creativity.
Although obsession normally implies a need for behavioral therapy, an effective cure in this case is simple support, encouragement, and money. (Yes, I’m not afraid to say it: social entrepreneurialism takes money. We’re might be scrappy, grassroots, and passionate, but we still have to eat.)
Given the relative infancy of social entrepreneurialism as an accepted adjunct to business entrepreneurs, gaining community support for our work is a critical first step. Social entrepreneurs are a different breed, a product of a fast paced, ever-changing, office-cubicle-averse, just-try-and-stop-me world. Like so many who give so much to our city, we are passionate about our causes, but we go about executing our dreams and tackling our goals in a different way. If the old approach of forming disconnected organizations without a clear vision of the ultimate goal, haphazard funding, and political allegiances really worked, then we would long ago have solved the problems we are still battling.
Before I can expect you to trust us, support us, encourage us, and fund us, I want you to first understand us.
How do we see our city and our world?
What is our frame of reference?
What are our strategies?
What new tools and resources do we bring to the table?
I read too much, so please believe me when I say that community support of our newfangled ideas and out-of-the-box thinking will be one of the key determinates of our success or failure as a city.
So, for all those in government, business, nonprofit, and the general powers-that-be who write checks, here’s a bit of a primer on us social entrepreneurs, or at least my take on what I eat, sleep, live, and breathe every day. No one appointed me (or even asked me) to share my thoughts. I was just the first one to submit my blog. Take it with a grain of salt, chew on it a bit, and ask a lot of questions. I love questions.
On the Chopping Block
The last time I checked, Memphis had somewhere around 2,000 registered 501(c)(3)’s not counting churches and the community work they do. As best I can tell, we have about 15 different divisions of city government and Lord knows how many county divisions. Folks, more isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just more. Ms. Dorsey states that young social entrepreneurs are “agnostic about organizational entities.” I would take that a step further and posit that we are quasi-opposed to them (at least as they are now).
At least once a week, I hear from someone who wants to start a new nonprofit. What do they most often have in common? Someone else is already doing exactly what they are so earnestly trying to start! A new organization is waaaaayyy down on my list of ways to create change. Way down. I can even think of some instances in which it is absolutely not an option.
Before we haul off and spend a lot of time and energy worrying about who gets to be in charge of a new organization and how much they’ll get paid, let’s step back and take a look at the landscape as it stands now. Obviously the currently assortment of players (organizational or individual) isn’t working. You really want to fix things and grow? Don’t be afraid to state unequivocally that everything is on the chopping block.
Yeah, I know. That’s a scary one. Very few are willing to put the greater community good above secure health insurance. And we’re also talking about people, like myself, who are sincerely passionate about what we do and the city we hope to create. It’s tough to ask someone to give up an organization that is a part of their heart and soul. By definition though, we social entrepreneurs are about change. And leading change means we’re asking people to give something up in the belief that we are creating something better.
So what’s the magic word that will help us get to a better place?
It’s “nimble.” And occasionally “scrappy.” According to the all-knowing Webster, nimble is a synonym for “agile.” My goal as a social entrepreneur is to move “quickly and easily” in ways I might not have ever imagined. And when I need to be quick, and I need to be effective, you might just find me being scrappy. It’s what Webster called the “determined spirit” that, when combined with the ability to leap and bend, and put it all on the chopping block, makes us a pretty good bet.
To quote one of the coolest people I know, Christopher Reyes, the social entrepreneur’s model is “for profit with a conscience. Our bottom line is not money. Our bottom line is community.” We might have a home base, even an “office” of sorts. But most days, we’re all over the community building relationships, rarely organizations.
Back to the guy (or girl) who wants to start a new nonprofit. The first thing out of my mouth is usually, “You should talk to XX.” Again, we start with the premise that another organization is rarely the path to effective change. Sometimes coffee, or cocktails, and a conversation can work magic. And if we can make enough money to keep the lights on, then it’s a pretty good day.