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Social Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship is something I am extremely passionate about.

It’s a term that has gotten a lot of mainstream buzz especially in the last five to ten years. People now dream of being social entrepreneurs!

What is a social entrepreneur? That’s a great question. One interesting answer to this is by a man named Bill Drayton, who is the Grandfather of social entrepreneurship! He is to social entrepreneurship what Gandhi was to peace, Einstein was to Physics, and Paulo Coehlo is to writing. He says ..“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”… Bill Drayton, CEO, chair and founder of Ashoka

I was very fortunate to meet Bill Drayton at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference in March of 2009. I was in the theatre, and there was a man who was talking to a few people, and there seemed to be something special about him, so I went up to talk to him. I had no idea who he was. A few minutes later when he was called to give a speech, I realized who he was. He had a very calm but purposeful presence. He created Askoka, which finds and helps the greatest social entrepreneurs on the planet bring their ideas to reality.

You may watch him speak on the subject here: http://www.ashoka.org/entrepreneurforsociety

A social entrepreneur is a person who has a passion for helping people, picks one or many social causes, and relentlessly pursues this vision to completion, falling many times but getting back up with restored purpose.  Compared to businesses, a social entrepreneurs’ main ROI (return on investment) measure is the number of lives which will be positively affected by their solutions. This is the real fuel for their fire.

A social entrepreneur can be anyone who is young, old, female, male, educated, or non-educated, rich or poor. The common defining thread that flows through these types of people is their drive for wanting to solve a social situation, their resourcefullness in getting materials or people to grow their cause (sometimes having to push it alone for a while), their creativity in rethinking a field, and their perseverance no matter how many times they fall. Some social entrepreneurs just fall into this category by chance, some chip away at discovering it, and some have always known this is what they were meant to be.

One of the most amazing stories of a man who “took a wrong turn” into social entrepreneurship is Greg Mortenson. This is what Bill Clinton had to say about him “He (Greg Mortenson) is the ultimate social entrepreneur … a guy with a good idea, prepared to start small and stay with it as long as it takes to have a big impact and commit a lifetime to it. … he is effective in an area where Americans are not popular, because he relates to people as human beings.”

He had the Tanzanian influence early on, as his family moved there when he was very young so his father could build the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center.

In 1992, he set off to attempt to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain, but fate, and a wrong turn after his team tried to save a climber’s life, lead him to the village of Korphe, in the mountains of Northern Pakistan. The villagers took care of him and he forged friendships with them through drinking cups of tea. He saw children learning in the dirt becuase they did not have a school. He promised to come back and build a school for them. That promise has turned into his life long vocation. After enduring many rejections from people in trying to raise money he convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to found the Central Asia Institute. The CAI, with Mortenson’s leadership, has over the last 16 years, built 131 schools in some of the roughest regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. His journeys have not been without trials. In 1996 he survived an 8-day kidnapping by the Taliban, escaped fighting between Afghani warlords, and received hate mail and threats from people disagreeing with his building schools for girls in Pakistan. He has received Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Sitara-e-Pakistan in March 2009.

He has written two novels: Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.

All of this may seem impossible to you and me, but this is a person who took it step by step after realizing his calling. He realized what he had to do later on in his life, took the challenge and did all he could to achieve his vision. He is awkwardly shy, an introvert, but has determination that could only be tested with the mountains of Pakistan. He did not know what would happen, but he was determined to do everything he could to build his first school, then his second school, and his 131st school. I believe anything is possible, if we’re open to being open to the opportunities that come our way, even opportunities on the side of a remote mountain. ALWAYS BELIEVE!


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