How Should Social Entrepreneurs Value Themselves?

18 months ago while interviewing 75 social entrepreneurs in China, we asked the question “what has been your greatest success?”.

It was a question that was originally intended to elicit information about programs that had been successful, traction in developing a revenue stream, or some pride in the fact that their staff of 5 had stabilized and they were poised to grow.

Instead, what we heard most often was “We are still alive” …. As if that was the ONLY tangible measure of success they recognized.

Not exactly what we expected, but it is the reality that many socially/ environmentally minded entrepreneurs face, and as a social entrepreneur myself I often found it difficult to understand what success was.

Which has led me to continually seek an answer about how socially minded entrepreneurs need to value themselves.  It is supposed to be about impact, but as my recent conversations with one of Asia’s most widely respected social entrepreneurs highlighted… social entrepreneurs are asked to make long term improvements/ impacts, but are measured on a short term basis.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, the funding cycle is rarely stable enough to plan more than 18-24 months out, so the entrepreneur must continually sell themselves to fund the work.

It is a position where the entrepreneur is constantly on the defensive, and beign questioned.

Which is where my recent interest in corporate forms of social innovation, and more specifically leadership, has increased.  That, through the frameworks (some say matrix) of an organization (some say “the man”), value that is proven receives a different level and type of support.  Sure, the “intrapreneur” has to sell themselves and their work, but credibility gained can be built on over time, through the system impact can be achieved, and through grown comes personal reward (financially and otherwise).

Having a clear mission and value as an organization or to an organization is the fist step, but also having a clear idea about what the value of that mission is internally and externally is of critical importance.  Once those two things are established, and a basic level of respect is developed, developing programs, financial structures, and other supporting mechanisms can take place so that growth of the organization (and entrepreneur) can occur.

Without it, growth cannot occur.. and as we all know, if you ain’t growing… your dying.

So, find you mission and value, and sell on it relentlessly.

If you find that the value proposition isn’t clear, and you are spending you time justifying the mission, project, or team, then recalibrate so that clarity can be found and value can be re-established.

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