I enjoyed reading this article. The Guardian have been pretty active over the last few years with the growth of social enterprise, so it’s little surprise to see that articles like this have found a home with them. I strongly agree with that David Floyd says about the ‘cult’ of the social entrepreneur (and it being potentially harmful), although the article loses its way a bit towards the end and unfortunately doesn’t explore the suggestions that different personalities and characters are required to initiate and sustain social change.

My agreement with what the author says about the concept of the ‘heroic social entrepreneur’ partly stems from the fact that I myself got caught up in the hype of it, and have only recently started to gain perspective.

For me, and I think many others who go down this route, the interest stems from how you could have a positive social impact on a bigger scale. I had already learned how to do so on a local community level, but spreading this wider required a different set of tools. I was already aware of the charity model, but had seen how poor organisational skills and sustainability thinking had led many of these to spend a great deal of time chasing up funding to survive, rather than having impact.

And so the term ‘social enterprise’ kept cropping up everywhere – the idea of an organisation with a social mission that if well-run is as efficient and effective as a successful corporate business. And guess what, there were plenty of organisations out there proving that this works. “Well”, I thought, “that sound ruddy marvelous!” (exact thought process may have sounded less like a 1930s Briton).

So If I’m going to set up one of these ‘social enterprise’-y things, what does that make me exactly? This wasn’t really a career path I had read about in school. And then I began to encounter the term ‘social entrepreneur’. This did not mean entrepreneurs who happen to be sociable people, but rather people building/running organisations with a social mission. There were evidently a lot of these people about, and there also seemed to be a lot of hype around them.

At times it’s presented as though these people hold the key to solving all the world’s problems. Sadly, the hype goes to the head of some of those people doing great things in the world. An easy thing to happen. I’ve not yet grown comfortable with the way that some people will lavish praise upon you when you tell them you’re setting up a not-for-profit (any tips?). And yet most of us who choose this route do so because we find it incredibly rewarding and are passionate about our work.

What turns me off is the way some ‘social entrepreneurs’ see being a social entrepreneur as an end itself. I’ve been guilty of this too at times. But it’s not; it’s a set of tools and mindset that enables you to create change, and that change is the bottom line. For some people that change is in isolated communities, for others it’s in poverty-stricken areas, for someone else it’s about youth development. For me it’s about student mental health. I chose ‘social entrepreneurship’ because it stood out to me as the best path through which I could really impact that area. It’s been very refreshing to regain perspective on that.

To go back to the first paragraph, creating and sustaining change does require a range of characters. The social entrepreneur plays a key role, especially in providing the initial drive to get an organisation off the ground. But there are other pieces of the puzzle – one person can’t do and know everything. A good accountant, an investor, advisors, techy…The development of an organisation requires the talents and efforts of a whole team, and the acclaim should be shared out equally – not just centred around one person.

What I’m also learning is that building and maintaining require quite different characters and skillsets. Some people are more suited to the former, others the latter. The visionary can help provide the initial spark to give a new project life, but may not be suited to running its day to day operations once things have calmed down.

I’ll round off by saying that I believe anybody can create change. I’ve seen hundreds of student volunteers amaze themselves by having an impact upon the mental health and wellbeing of their fellow students. Motivation and attitude are most important, you can pick up the skills as you go along.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a social entrepreneur, writer, politician. These are all just enablers. The bottom line is simple: what impact are you having?

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