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Nuggets of Wisdom from Successful Social Entrepreneurs
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
The Tech Awards Nexus Conference brought together a diverse, passionate group from the social enterprise (SE) community. The annual conference is always uplifting, and this year’s theme of successful social entrepreneurship made it even more so. But, that doesn’t mean that we got a sugar-coated view of easy it is to build an organization that positively impacts the lives of thousands or millions of people. The rock stars of the SE world we heard from spoke from the heart and the brain, and they told us how messy it can be.
My current focus is on enabling CSTS to help more entrepreneurs help more people, so I was listening for insight on mentoring and capacity building that we can provide to help SEs scale their impact.
My main takeaway from the day was a reaffirmation that the social entrepreneurship movement is reaching a certain level of maturity and credibility, and that we have enough collective experience to learn from each other. Most of us in this space learn the most from practical examples and guidelines, which was the hallmark of the day. The quotes that resonated the most with me were:
And, as in any good conversation about social entrepreneurship these days, the speakers proudly discussed their failures as an indispensable element of their success. Joel told this story:
We started charging our users for Episurveyor out of financial necessity, but once we did, it aligned us with our customers’ needs, which made us stronger. The failure is that it took us seven years to figure that out.
Radha Basu from Anudip summed up the discussion on failure with her usual exuberance by stating simply that “bruises and scars build character. You pick yourself up and go forward.”
To do this requires mental flexibility, accompanied by the willingness and ability to adapt. On this point, Joel Selanikio popped open his laptop and quoted Marie Curie: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tech Awards Nexus conference without this year’s laureates sharing their innovations to benefit humanity. At every break, the laureates positioned themselves at their showcase booths and passionately described and demoed their work. We see the tremendous potential in each of these 15 innovators and hope that the Tech Awards can be as pivotal for their organizations as it was for Kristine, who told us that, “without The Tech Awards, we would have gone under. Instead, we brought in Vodaphone and other new donors, and we went on to distribute 215,000 radios and touch the lives of 12 million people.”
The problems we are working to solve are daunting, and we have a long way to go. But, in the words of John Kohler, “everyone in the room has their heart in the right place. That will let us go more quickly.”
After spending the day with such a thoughtful, committed, and sincere group of people, I am more committed than ever to going the distance. Are you?