Although there has been no consensus over how to define it, the concept of Social Entrepreneurship has gained great momentum globally since the midst of the last century. Whether it is a *business for a cause* that relies on customer-generated income in order to serve a greater societal cause (e.g: Toms Shoes), a non-profit initiative that monetizes for the purpose of self-sustainability (e.g. Coursera), or organizations running mainly on grants from international institutions, national governments, and private donations (e.g. Khan Academy, Médecins Sans Frontières, etc.), social entrepreneurship remains an endeavor for the good of the masses, with the willingness of the entrepreneur to make less profits, if at all, than in any traditional corporate business venture, with the trade-off being the positive impact their social enterprise draws on the local or global community. Philanthropists, social activists, and other socially-oriented initiators can hence also be referred to as social entrepreneurs.
Social Entrepreneurship: A Human Nature
But beyond clear-cut and ambiguous definitions, in fact, Social Entrepreneurship, as an altruistic behavior, exists in each one of us; even among business and tech typhoons who have reaped billions running profitable ventures. Since leaving day-to-day operations at Microsoft, business magnate Bill Gates turned towards philanthropy co-chairing with his wife Melinda Gates the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helping tackle global health issues, poverty, and hunger in under developing countries, improve education, and address other pressing socio-economic situations around the world. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan topped The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s list of American philanthropists in charitable giving for 2013, giving away $992.2-million for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Later in early 2015, Facebook co-founder initiated A Year of Books, a personal reading challenge that he made public to influence people into reading more books. The list of charitable contributions and social activism of people and celebrities goes on, and on, and on.
Increasing research and human experiences point to the fact that we are happier when we help others, because there is more to life than being selfishly happy. It is part of our human nature to be partially egoistic to survive, partially altruistic to thrive. Social entrepreneurship hence becomes a part of who we are as humans; and although hundreds of people around the world leave their day jobs each year to start a social enterprise, our nature dictates that each of us can be a social entrepreneur without the necessity to institutionalize our efforts into an enterprise. And in a world where a lot doesn’t fit in its place, it is more than ever due for us to unleash our internal social entrepreneur, emphasizing social entrepreneurship as being both a state – of being an entrepreneur, and a behavior – of being entrepreneurial, beyond limited conceptualizations of its close association with business start-up and growth.
Unbundling Social Entrepreneurship: The Power of Email
The reality is, despite its urgency and our tendency to embrace it, social entrepreneurship as an institutionally silo-ed effort is not something that everyone will be doing throughout their lives. While many aspire to create change, a very small percentage of us will have the favorable circumstances throughout their limited lifetime to go on a journey where they start a venture that cleans water in Africa, improve education in their home country, or found the next Greenpeace.
Does that mean that all of the people who will not have the chance to file for an NGO can’t dream of impacting their world beyond their personal survival and that of their family and kids?
I guess not in a world where enabling change has become at the tip of our fingers through exponentially easier communication; and the most effective vector to start an un-bundled, lifetime social enterprise, without one contract or a lawyer is: an Email.
What most today’s social organizations try to do is to tackle industries as silos trying to find solutions for niche problems. Working across horizontals as a connector is often an underestimated asset which can be a great added value on the community level.
Imagine the scenario where everyone who has access to internet on this planet sends a daily email to help solve one issue, somewhere, across a continuum of dynamics, and industries.
Defining a Virtual Social Enterprise
When an organization tries to find jobs for unemployed youth, or an app tries to connect people to each other, the way of thinking is that, by gathering resources and putting them in the proper way to the end user, we can deliver solutions to existing problems.
The same logic applies if you send a daily email to support someone in your network with a potential solution. However instead of focusing on one main societal issue, you can work across problems, depending on people needs: Sending an email to connect your talented friend looking for a job to someone looking for a good hire. Sending an email to introduce a person you know to another person who has the same interest. Sending an email to tell your employee about a website, an app, or a piece of information that may change their life. Sending an email to a friend who seemed to need something from the hometown where you both grew up and that you happened to be visiting. Sending an email to tell someone that they rocked their presentation, and that you are a fan of their beautiful work.
By doing all of the above, you have in a way done what many organizations or apps are each trying to do separately.
If you noticed, the apparent effort, if split on the frequency of one email per day, is minimal. But if you multiply the number of your days as of today by the number of people and lives you will be touching everyday, the impact is huge.
All it takes is an email. Or a Facebook message. Or a Whatsapp text.
In a virtual social entrepreneurship model the mission is to help one person at a time and the reward instead of being monetary is reaped two-fold: a personal satisfaction and a down-the-road economic upturn due to improvements in people lives and eventually the world as a whole.
They say it takes a revolution to make a solution, but sometimes a revolution doesn’t have to require funding, or a gathering of the masses. It can be as simple as a small personal effort, that leverages our resources that we have accumulated throughout our lives. In this case, mostly our network of people.
There are many reasons why we may be reluctant to help others. Some have done it and were set back by the egoistic nature of the person they tried to help. But setting expectations is the greatest enemy of altruism.
Others fear competition, and prefer to keep their assets, knowledge, and resources in their backyard. But the truth is, there is a certain chemistry in this universe that only works well when some things and people are at certain places and work with specific other people. Just like you couldn’t have loved that perfect guy down the street because there was no chemistry, and like no one could ever take the place in your heart of the guy you fell in love with years ago, you will also not fit in a job no matter how qualified for it you may be, unless there is a mutuality between you, the job, and the employer. Opportunities are just as mutual as this. A partner you want to work with will either pick you or not. A woman will either love you or not. A friend will either befriend you or not. There is no option in between, and that means when you help other people, you are not helping them on your expense, because each and everyone of us is made to fit somewhere, exactly in that hole where we were best made as keys for success. And that means that external competition is just an imaginary concept that we grow up afraid of, and which in fact doesn’t exist. No one can ever compete with no one. We are too different to fit in the same keyholes. And a world were we try to fit ourselves in holes that are not carved for us is a world that won’t ever function.
Too Long, Didn’t Read?
There is a friend in your network today asking for help somewhere. If you see it don’t turn a blind eye. Think who in the other end of your network may fit. Send them an email to introduce them to each other. Don’t expect anything in return. Just enjoy the pleasure that with a little effort every day, and a tiny short email, you might be changing lives.
Don’t expect when you help others to be happy. Happiness is selfish. Finding meaning to our life on the contrary happens through altruistic moves. And although altruism might bring upon us less happiness or more hurdle than egoism, it is the main differentiation between humans and other animals. Animals seek happiness through satiation of food and sex, or other forms of pleasure. Humans do all that but are also meant to seek meaning. And it’s a trade-off between a meaningful life and a selfishly happy life that makes us humans.
That’s why when someone is too selfish we call them animals. Altruism is a must for humanity.