PEOPLE IN SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
“So yeah, it sounds nice, this whole social entrepreneurship thing you’re doing.., but what’s in it for you?” It’s not uncommon that I get this question, which usually means people want to know if you’re making any money (which they then deem unacceptable for a company with social goals). Or some are just trying to find out if you have a proper business case, since – also one I often hear – “trying to reach social goals without a business model is really not of this day and age”. I like to tell them: try promoting that to the needy in developing countries (“Uh, no, sorry, guys.., first you need a business model, then you will eat!”). Sorry, I’ll focus on my story now.
So, what keeps me going? Well, when I compare the car I’m driving to the ones my old economy peers have, it is clear that the big checks are not so much for my industry. Well then, what about “feeling good about yourself”? My view is that it’s not really a healthy motivation to get involved in other people’s problems (something I should particularly explain better to job applicants, considering they tend to start their motivation letter “I want to do something good” 8 out 10 times). Plus: less than 10% of social startups actually manage to have any kind of impact, so it seems you’re a lot more likely to end up with a burn out than that good feeling.
Meet new people
But there must be something, right? And to avoid readers’ anxiousness that they have been reading all this for nothing, let me tell you the answer is “yes”. Quite often, I see presentations from all kinds of cool companies with lovely missions which say that they got in touch with a lot of nice people in their business. Which can be boiled down to: you meet many interesting people. That’s it? Meet new people…? OK, it might sound a bit lame, but let me give you some explanation and examples of why that’s enough to get me motivated to give it all for my – somewhat simplistic – business (we collect scrap phones in Africa- “so you’re some sort of garbage man!”).
People. But everybody meets people? People are all over the place: at work, on the street, squeezed together in your subway. You’re right, off course. But my type of business connects me to lots of unexpected people.
Like the Ghanaian man who studied and worked in Europe. Then he got a call saying he had to come home, his mother was ill. In Accra, he learned that he was now crowned the new king of his tribe (just about 1 million or so people…) and so was requested to spend the rest of his life at ceremonial gatherings, weighed down with gold.
Or: the boy in who originally came from a poor region. He came to Kampala (Uganda) with a bicycle. He got paid for using that bike to transport stuff and people around, and with that money he could rent a motorcycle, and later even buy one. He then went on to arrange tours for tourists, and five years later he has the biggest motorcycle tour company in Uganda.
Or what about this guy (admittedly, I do encounter a bit less women in my business) from Nigeria. He was the first who saw an opportunity in bringing used electronics to his country. An opportunity so big that he became rich, and – a must when being rich in Nigeria, it seems – ended up buying his position in politics (I am now supposed to address him as “Your Excellency”).
Or the business man who helped me get in touch with Tanzanian phone repair shops for the first time. In this great country, we visited the shops on his motor bike (“the fastest way to leave your legs in Tanzania”). Visits that made me realize how Africans regard sustainability (in a few words: not like Europeans).
I think I made my point, here. But just to summarize, so you can click on the weather forecast. I think any blooded people person will make a great decision if they decide to become a social entrepreneur. It’s a great job for anyone who likes to work with people, who wants to work in places where many (and if possible, many different kinds of) people can be found. That’s what’s in it for me at least, and it’s as motivating as can be.