You Call Yourself a Social Entrepreneur? I Have A Dream-Begin Rant

Frankly, I’m a little sick and tired of hearing about social entrepreneurs. Generally speaking, we as a community do a good deal of talking about helping others, but at the end of the day there are too few people stepping up and actually doing anything concrete. Now that we’re deep in the throws of an economic downturn, people like Thomas Friedman of the NY Times are asking questions like “Does the economic downturn spell the end of the green movement?” What do you think? I love Tom Friedman and I don’t believe that the economic environment will be more than a blip on the socially conscious movement in the long run. It’s a great question and one that will sell lots of books and attention though. Nice one again Tom, love ya.

Back to my rant though…What’s the deal people? What the hell is a “socially conscious” movement anyway? Perhaps “movement” IS the right word as in “crap“. Are we all full of it? Perhaps we should call it a “socially UNconscious” movement. I mean, really, what is social entrepreneurship anyway? What’s a social enterprise? Is social entrepreneur a state of mind, like insanity? Are we just a bunch of granola eating, tree hugging folks who light candles, sing songs, do yoga, buy cage free eggs, listen to U2, and complain that corporations make too much money? I’ll tell you one thing, I am not one of those people. Greed IS good AND, GREEN is GOOD. CSR is GOOD. Intention…, is good. Action…., that’s a different story. Actions speak much more loudly than words. People, let me say something. In my opinion and experience so far, I’ve see way too much talk of doing, and not enough doing. Now that I think about it though, Tom Friedman might be onto something here. Perhaps the economic downturn is the end of this social entrepreneurship movement. Why? People are afraid. As a wealth manager, I can tell you that fear of loss is the number one concern of the wealthy. No matter how much money you have, fear continues to be a major concern among people. While the prospect of going bankrupt might not be a concern, there’s a very real possibility that one’s lifestyle could be altered. When it comes to emotions, many people view change as a win/lose proposition. If I don’t have to alter my lifestyle, I win. If I am forced to change the way I live, I lose. I would tend to agree with that assessment. I absolutely hate change. Before I had surgery, moving used to be my least favorite thing in the world. When change happens, and it isn’t on your terms, change sucks, excuse my French.

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the best selling book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” said something I have always liked. He said that his definition of “wealthy”, was “the ability to continue to pay yourself if you decide to stop working”, or something close to that. Some have described this scenario as “escaping the rat race”, or being “financially independent”. In reality, I think my friend Randy Ottinger of LMR Advisors in Seattle said it best in his book, “Beyond Success: Building a Personal, Financial, and Philanthropic Legacy” McGraw Hill 2008. Randy interviewed some of top minds in business and philanthropy including Bill Gates, Sr., Jeff Brotman of Costco, and Sandy Weill, former Chairman of Citigroup. Randy discusses the concept of a moving “Wealth Divide”. This divide is the concept of the conversation around the question “How much is enough?” We as human beings are hunter gatherers and are wired to want more and accumulate for those long winter months (like the current economic winter we’re in now) . Call it “keeping up with the Jones’s”, call it whatever you like. The fact remains, that we all have these fears about coming to the Wealth Divide, looking across, making the leap, and falling flat on our face. Until we recognize that this Wealth Divide is a moving target for many people, and come to understand that money and wealth do not make us happy, we will continue to live in fear that we will lose what we have. The net result of this fear is that our social entrepreneurial “movement” will continue to be just talk, eventually be flushed down the pages of history by free market capitalism (which is really working well at the moment isn’t it?), dismissed as another promising social experiment gone awry.

“My social entrepreneurial friends”, (can I pull a McCain here?) let me speak honestly with you for a moment as someone who has a little experience in this whole wealth management thing and understands a little thing about this whole planning and economic situation we are in. This is an intervention. I’m doing this because I love you and because you are sick. If you’ve ever watched the television show, “Intervention” on A&E, the main interventionist’s (is that a word?) name is Jeff VanVonderen and he is blatantly blunt with folks who are at rock bottom. Addicts don’t like change, but then he asks “How’s that workin for you?”. Usually the answer is, “not so good, right?” Are you happy? Are you truly doing what you want to be doing? Are you talking about social entrepreneurship, saying “someday I’ll do that”, or “I’m not smart enough”, or “I don’t have time for that”. If you are, let me ask you, “how’s that workin for ya?” You want to change? You want to do something good for this world? STOP SAYING SOMETIME, SOMEDAY. Understand you will never have enough money to make you happy and that happiness comes from DOING, not HAVING. Money is just a means to an end, not the end itself. Happiness comes from pursuing dreams and goals and things that seem crazy. If you doubt me, visit my friend Gail Lynne Goodwin’s site and read about her “Global Hugs Tour”. You think she’s happy?

This is YOUR intervention. FLASH!

Tomorrow, you visit your doctor and he tells you that you have a rare medical condition and that you only have 6 months to live. First assignment, right now, write your own eulogy. Take 30 seconds and think about what you want people to say about you as they put you into the ground…Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Great, are you living life that way now or are there any things that are left undone in your life that you would want to resolve before they cover you with 6 feet of dirt? While you may have created a lot of money in business and been a great entrepreneur, how about your family? Might you want to spend more time with them before you die? Than why aren’t you doing it now? What is the purpose of your work? Is it to provide? How much? When does more time with the family come? Where does the volunteering ever happen? When does “retirement” happen for you? Oh, so you’re one of those who will never retire cause you don’t want to be bored out of your mind and have your brain turn to mush watching TV shows on Hulu huh? So you work cause you don’t want to be bored huh? Sounds like fear to me? Fear of, say,…. loss of purpose? Ringing a bell anyone? I’ll ask you again, are you happy? How’s that fear thing workin for ya? Any family stress because Daddy is never home and always stressed when he is? That’s not you right? Perhaps watching The Last Lecture again is what you folks need.

My “budding social entrepreneurial friends”, this is YOUR intervention. I had a dream. That dream was helping to turn successful business owners into social entrepreneurs. So far, this has been just a dream because while I’m here, you are still there with your talk, talk, talk. If any of you have been “successful” in your “day job” and actually wish to do something with your life greater than earning a profit, let me know. I don’t work miracles, but more than likely, I can help design and manage the financial extrication strategy that you are fearing and keeping you living in your unfulfilled, profit motivated, life of “sometime, someday” I’ll have enough. Today is the day. END RANT/ END INTERVENTION DO YOU FOLLOW ME?




12 responses to “You Call Yourself a Social Entrepreneur? I Have A Dream-Begin Rant

  1. Jessica Smith

    My favorite line in this post?
    “Happiness comes from pursuing dreams and goals and things that seem crazy.”

    Amen to that!

  2. This is how I feel exactly.

  3. Hey, Ohdoctah gets it….why do I always get the flavor of ‘Amway’ whenever anyone talks about being a social entrepreneur? Hmmmm?

  4. Okay. I hear ya.

    However, let me suggest that there are, as with any population, diversity when it comes to “social entrepreneurs.” I cannot speak to the segment that you seem to be taking aim at, and I don’t disagree with the judgment you are passing on them. But…

    I would like to highlight a different segment: YOUNG social entrepreneurs. I work for a non-profit on a project that identifies, supports, and connects young social entrepreneurs (we define “young” as ages 18-29). Among these folks there is no “someday I’ll do that,” “I’m not smart enough,” or “I don’t have time for that.” They have identified issues, challenges, and/or needs in their communities and are spending their time and all of their resources working to address them. Frankly, speaking as someone who did not spend their 20s trying to change the world, I am astonished at the amount of their own personal time, money, and energy they expend pursuing these endeavors.

    You are correct that, “generally speaking, we as a community do a good deal of talking about helping others, but at the end of the day there are too few stepping up and actually doing anything concrete.” I just want to take a moment and counter that within our global community are a segment that are working their asses off to make a difference.

    Whether that difference is ultimately sustainable or not, whether their efforts are acknowledged or not, and despite overwhelming odds and obstacles, they are taking action.

    These young social entrepreneurs are not just creating Facebook pages, collecting “friends” and/or “followers,” and circulating petitions. Although, being young and savvy about social media, these are tools in their arsenals. However, they are also crafting business plans, forming partnerships with the private & public sectors, raising funds, redirecting “profits” back into their projects, and aggressively trying to educate and advocate around their issues. For the most part, they lack ego around their own accomplishments and spend much of their time seeking to learn from their peers and other professionals about how to do things better, smarter, and more sustainably. They are, without exception changing lives.

    Some examples:
    Reese Fernandez (Philippines), founder of Rags2Riches, a social business enterprise, to empower the women of Patayas, a sprawling dumpsite, to make high quality rugs out of recycled cloth from garment factories. Rags2Riches bases its approach on an innovative partnership system – bringing together designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs to create a sustainable, scalable, social enterprise.

    Raghda El Ebrashi (Egypt), is the Founder and Chairperson of the Alashanek ya Balady Association for Sustainable Development (AYB-SD). Alashanek ya Balady translates from Arabic to mean “For you, my beloved country.” The organization works on the development of poor urban areas in Egypt through various economic, social, and cultural projects.

    Joseph Agoada (US), founder of Two Wheeled Foundation (TWF), utilizes the bicycle as a tool of social empowerment for developing rural African communities. TWF seeks to address a root cause of poverty and suffering in rural Africa: lack of mobility.

    Bright Simons (Ghana), co-founded mPedigree to combat alarming rates of pharmaceutical counterfeiting in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, as much as 25 percent of all medicines sold in the developing world are inauthentic copies containing little or no active ingredients. Through mPedigree, consumers are able to verify the source of a pharmaceutical at the point of purchase, for no cost, by simply sending a text message.

    These are only 4 examples. (for more:

    As long as they “call [themselves] social entrepreneurs,” I’m going to have to insist that the label be respected.

    • Katbaloo,

      You hit the nail on the head. All of the examples you mentioned, including young people doing something on Facebook or elsewhere are prime examples that making a difference has nothing to do with money and that happiness comes from doing and not having. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having, once we’ve achieved success at a certain level, our attention need not be ENTIRELY focused on our own safety and security. Those folks who have achieved “success” whatever that means to them, might be interested in taking on something greater then themselves. Whether it be finally spending more time with their own kids and making up for that time they spent building success, or taking on a volunteer role, or building a social enterprise. Anyone who is walking the walk, I salute you. They are true social entrepreneurs. Anyone who has the desire to walk the walk and is saying “sometime, someday”, is in need of the intervention I spoke of.


  5. Richard,
    Thanks for the opportunity to highlight a remarkable group of people…

    I do get that you are taking at aim at those who merely give lip service, versus those who actually do. And in that regard we are in full agreement.

    If you ever do play host to that intervention, I’ve got a number of young people who would be happy to help out… 🙂

  6. After reading this I got pretty upset by your finger pointing to a whole section of people you likely know a sliver of (the ones really doing the work are often not the ones getting recognized), then after reading your comments and replies, I see you may not actually believe all social entrepreneurs are talk. There are a great deal of us who truly do this for the love of it and believe me, money isn’t part of the equation.

    I am of the same mindset that you should stop all the talking and just do it already. I cashed in the $6k I had saved in my 401k and left a cushy job 10 years ago with no business experience, clients or a real clue to start up a socially conscious design studio because I wanted to do something that made a difference in the world.

    Since then, I have built a small and successful business (firebelly design), started a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping my surrounding community with a direct giving website (reason to give), started a camp for hungry design students looking to make a difference with their talents (camp firebelly), given away a grant for the last 6 years to one nonprofit who works with our studio probono for an entire year and recently took my entire staff to Thailand on a volunteer vacation to work with Buddhist monks.

    I agree, some people talk, but some of us do walk the walk. Most people just never hear about it because we’re so damn busy…

    • Hi Dawn,

      As you stated, people should just wake up and “do it”, with the “it” being whatever the heck is important in their life, whether it be finally going skydiving, running that 1/2 marathon, or helping out our fellow man. It is the self-limiting excuses like “I’d love to start a non-profit to help underprivileged kids, but I’m too busy at work (which BTW, they hate and know they should be doing something else anyway).

      This isn’t about social entrepreneurs at all, it’s about living your dreams intentionally. I just happen to care about this social entrepreneurs which is why I’m picking a fight 🙂 In my case, for my eulogy, I decided that I wanted people to say I made a difference.

  7. A great book you may want to read:
    Small Giants – Companies that Choose to be Great instead of Big. It includes a lot of examples of real entrepreneurs doing the right thing, and they are in my book social entrepreneurs, because they see that there is more to business than just optimizing profit.
    I think that your definition of social entrepreneurs as granola eating tree huggers is at best misguided.
    Another resource you may want to check to clarify the definition is Social Edge:

    The good news is that while you seem not to notice, the world is changing and social business is taking hold. And this is good because we have no choice, Capitalism as we know it is what got us where is are today. We need something more sustainable if we want our kids to have a good place to live in…

  8. Hi Richie,

    Absolutely loved your blog post!

    Are you familiar with Julia Moulden’s wonderful boo, “We are the New Radicals.” This is all about real-live “social entrepreneurs” who are making a difference. Fits right into your thinking and it shows how many people there are out there pursuing real change that makes a difference.

    Also, did you see the CNN Heros program on CNN in October. I’m sure you can find details on the CNN site. Same thing – an acknowledgement of people who are out there making a difference in amazing ways. This motivated me to put on a series of workshops to raise money for my local food bank.

    The thing to remember is that we can all make a difference in our own little way. Doing something, anything is worth the effort.

    It also can start right in our own businesses. We need to see our clients as people we can make a contribution to, not people we earn a living from. I call it “The Contribution Factor.” It can permeate our businesses from top to bottom. You just need to live with this questions: “How can I make a difference right now?”

    Here’s a blog post I wrote on this – “Contribution in Action” –

    I’m putting your blog in my blogroll. I love your kind of thinking!

    Robert Middleton

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