This post comes from Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of FINCA International and author of “The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook.” He talks about his experiences as a social entrepreneur and microfinance pioneer.
I have long known that Care2 is a passionate and energetic community that is committed to making a difference. Like me, Care2 members believe in social justice and in making a global impact for their causes.
In a world where there is less and less focus on the challenges facing the poorest people, I urge you to ask yourself a question: what if I became a social entrepreneur, applying my energy to start a new business, organization, or campaign to bring about the change I wish to see in the world?
This is a daunting question, and I can assure you there is no easy answer to it. But after nearly four decades of making small business “microloans” to women in the world’s poorest communities with my organization, FINCA International, I have found five ingredients to be the most important for success in social entrepreneurship.
Here are five lessons for entrepreneurs who are thinking of taking the plunge into social action:
1. Follow your passion. Starting FINCA took a lot of hard work, but it was such a labor of love that I never viewed it as a job. We were on a mission, and our passion and enthusiasm attracted many talented people willing to share their skills and experiences. People, especially recent graduates, often ask me: “Where do I begin?” I answer with a question of my own: “What or whom do you care about? Global warming? World hunger? Righting a wrong?”
2. Be a volunteer. If you are not quite sure where to begin, volunteer for a non-profit either in the US or abroad. You will quickly discover whether or not this work is for you, if you’ve picked the right cause, and if you are ready to take the next step toward starting or joining a social enterprise. As a Care2 advocate, you are actively working to promote social justice. In other words, you’ve already taken the first step.
3. Walk a mile in their shoes. Social entrepreneurs feel passionate about something, usually correcting an injustice or helping a group of people who are getting a raw deal and are powerless to do anything about it. But social entrepreneurs shouldn’t just read about their constituency; they need to “walk a mile in their shoes” in order to develop an understanding of their plight. If you can, find an opportunity to get out into the field and live in the communities you are working to help.
4. Build it brick by brick. To operate a successful socially-minded organization, you must start as you would with any other business: you need to hone your skills and acquire the necessary experience. You will need to recruit other true believers to your cause. You will need to raise the capital to finance your social business, to make payroll, and to provide the goods and services to the constituency you have identified. How do you accomplish this? Brick by brick. There are no short cuts that I have found—patience, diligence, and creativity are the keys to success.
5. Never stop innovating. The future of social entrepreneurship is limited only by our imaginations and creativity. The employees and shareholders of all socially-responsible businesses are demanding that they be accountable for more than just their bottom lines, making new approaches to problems a necessity. At FINCA, we are in continual dialogue with our clients to identify the new products and services that they most need to build stable, more secure livelihoods.
To learn more about FINCA, please visit www.finca.org.