What Inspires a Social Entrepreneur?

lewis via wondermar

What motivates a social entrepreneur? What motivates you?

After the hard analysis is published and the heady policy papers go unread, compassion motivates me. As philosopher Peter Singer notes, “We have to decide to what extent we shall live for ourselves, and to what extent for others.” Economic development means human development, and human development requires listening, empathy, understanding, caring, decency and kindness.

Café Impact social entrepreneurs fire up my commitment:

 

Community catalyzes me. Social sector conferences are where the good, the great and the accomplished rekindle their moral imaginations and forge the human bonds necessary for personal (and institutional) sustainability. The annual Opportunity Collaboration refreshes (and vexes) me with deeper reflection about my personal conventions, character and limitations.

Compassion compels me. MicroCredit Enterprises is a “profitable” nonprofit comprised of individuals who guarantee microloans for over a million impoverished women all over the globe—small business partners whom they don’t know and will never meet. No financial gain is expected or even possible. Even Thank Yous are unexpected and rare. It is the magic and mystery of selfless altruism.

Pragmatic pluralism steers me. Zealously, I used to think large-scaled, systemic social change was the only change worth doing. Now I believe that a parent (single moms, take note) raising a child makes a future investment as powerful as any social impact investor or charitable nonprofit. When it puts aside ideology and dogma to honor change agents at all levels of impact and in all spheres of human endeavor, social entrepreneurship honors itself.

Ego keeps me moving. Outsized self-confidence in our respective social entrepreneurial talents drives us to take on the world’s biggest challenges (a polite phrase for society’s shameful stupidities). The work is simultaneously invigorating and numbing. On the bad days, ego strokes from personal friends and impersonal audiences alike prop me up.

Laughter restores me. Confronted with gargantuan global problems and demoralizing meanness, humor (yes, even the politically incorrect joke) gives me perspective — reminding myself that I matter, but I don’t matter all that much. When I laugh on the outside, I am smiling on the inside at the pure joy of being a social activist.

Words deepen me. Browsing through my high school alumni magazine, faculty member Rebecca Hong‘s graduation speech jolted me into re-considering the way I work towards social and economic justice. Her words: “Move slowly. Mend things.” For more words, my two favorite bloggers on social sector leadership: Akaya Windwood and Sasha Dichter.

Strangers strengthen me. A random, impulsive donation means more than money. It contributes toward a societal norm of generosity and a shared expectation of service. Above and beyond their direct deeds, nonprofits – individuals organized to voluntarily give to the greater good — shape my communal values and define the change I seek as an impact investor, social enterprise executive or community activist.

Civic sacrifice grounds me. A story from the sixties anti-war movement tells about the pacifist minister A.J. Muste who was challenged about standing quietly, night after night, in front of the White House, holding a lone candle. Asked, “Would that really change anything?” Muste replied, “Oh, you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not doing this to change the country. I do it so the country won’t change me.”

People in poverty lead me. When my energy droops or my spirits flag, when I am feeling selfish or lazy, I remember an illiterate, Bolivian woman in a jaunty bowler hat, standing in a goat field, encircled by other women, telling how – thanks to a microloan – she was, for the first time in her life, feeding her children every day, three times a day. No one works harder than an impoverished mom struggling to feed her kids.

When an ethical challenge confronts me, my son inspires me. Standing up for social and economic justice affirms my existence to myself, reveals who I am to others and gives my son a legacy worthy of him.

photo credit: wondermar

This post originally appeared here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rich-tafel/becoming-the-sustainabili_b_1420763.html.

Continue this conversation at our event on February 11th at PunchRock! We’ll be discussing “Martyrdom in Social Change: Seeking Personal Sustainability” and we’d love to see you there. RSVP here.

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