A wise teacher said to me recently, “You are your business”; and seldom has a truer thing been said. We live in a world where we celebrate building things outside ourselves – companies, campaigns, architecture, change. Yet on some level these things are not outside of us, they are outward expressions of our inner lives. They represent our dreams, hopes, strengths, weaknesses and more. Our creations are also our teachers. They have the unique power to teach us that which we most need to see in ourselves.
When going Outward Bound, we used to use the phrase: “let the mountains speak for themselves”. This pedagogic dream was only as effective as the student’s ability to listen to and understand what the mountains had to say. What are your mountains saying to you? What is your business, life and work teaching you?
It was no surprise that I ended up in social entrepreneurship, and it wasn’t because I was a brilliant entrepreneur. On the contrary, this choice of life path emerged more because of what I needed to learn than what I had to offer. Social entrepreneurship was an ideal vehicle to learn more about discipline, focus and channeling my creative energy. Quite simply, we do what we do because of what we don’t know more than what we do.
Why is it that some people choose the go into partnership while others choose to go solo. Is it because one method works better than another? No. When we choose our strategies we are subconsciously choosing our teachers. Every little part of your business, job or work is trying to teach you something about yourself; it is trying to perfect you in some way.
I became a CEO not because I was an expert leader. I became a CEO because I needed to learn more about the ethical use of power. I needed to learn how to discern between what was my stuff and what belonged to others. For anyone who has served in this role, they will know that it forces you to face yourself. Read more
You are not a social entrepreneur.
You are not a CEO.
You are not your role or whatever you think you are.
Roles and role titles may be useful at times to guide our work or describe it to the outside world, and indeed these role titles can feel liberating. In fact, great and effective leadership means having a healthy relationship with role.
By contrast however, there is a danger in over-identifying with roles and role titles. It can lead to misuses for power, and can eventually cause harm and be a leader’s undoing.
Many in the do-gooding space have encountered leaders who have lost their ethical footing with regards to their role. I have seen this in other leaders and I have seen it in myself. One group of people who experience this most acutely are those who have founded organisations. There is even a term called ‘founders syndrome’ to describe the effects of poor founder separation and misuses of power by those in that role.
While there are many aspects to founders syndrome, one key feature comes as an over-identification with role. For many founders, the creation of their organisation is a work of significant effort and investment. This can lead to immense pride and attachment which Read more
Last week I wrote a short post titled Now Hiring: Systems Diplomats and had a most surprising reaction. My niche little blog with its humble readership suddenly swelled, at least momentarily. There was something in this post that seemed to resonate for people very strongly.
It might have been not much more than the first two words “Now Hiring” which gave the reader some false hope that in this post was an intriguing new job available, only to realize that it was a fake ad. But the comments and feedback I received on twitter showed something more.
Firstly, to be clear, the meme explored in this post or even the name is not original. I first came across this about a year ago in conversation with a friend, colleague and fellow knowmad @edwardharran. At the time we used the term Ecosystems Diplomat. Eddie subsequently chatted with @katemural who wrote a stellar post on ecosystems diplomacy. Kate also explored the idea of a kind of Ecosystems Diplomacy Corp. While I have been mostly unaware until recently, there have been others exploring these meme from different angles all over the world, blending it with other memes like open space technology and collective impact.
The collective impact meme was made publicly known and accessible by the team at FSG who have diligently mapped a bunch of collective impact initiatives, and created a framework for how these work. While systems diplomacy is not limited to multi-institutional collaboration, there is definite correlation with the qualities required to facilitate collective impact projects. FSG have focused very heavily on the importance and contribution of backbone organisations in these processes. Systems diplomacy can shed some light on the qualities and approaches of the people who are doing this work. Read more
Over the past few years I have worked with and met a number of social entrepreneurs. I have been struck by how many have come into the work that they do through perceiving injustice, inequity or inefficiency elsewhere. Most social entrepreneurs I know are not new to ‘doing good’ – it is in their blood. For many they have committed their lives and been working for years trying different approaches to creating change or making a better world.
A striking number have recounted to me experiences they have had in previous jobs at non-profit organisations or the corporate sector where they perceived a genuine problem. The problems people have shared have been very diverse, including misaligned strategy, poor spending, workplace bullying, mismanagement, ego-based leadership and perhaps most alarmingly, an unwillingness to listen to contrary or negative feedback. Sometimes these problems create harmful organisations or programs, and other times just keep the organisation in a place of mediocrity; locked away from fully achieving greatness or their mission.
Many social entrepreneurs I have come across have actually first attempted to create change, innovate or establish new initiatives within these existing organisations. They have often experienced the resistance that comes from a system trying to protect itself, and not allowing new information to come in. Many have also experienced not being heard when trying to express counter views or challenge authority when they witness unethical behaviour in leadership.
I could not even count how many people I know who have felt that they have had no other option than to leave the organisation as they have been unable to create change there. In some cases, their departure has not been their choice. The information and perceptions they have had and were unable to share would have potentially saved the Read more
I had an interesting conversation the other day with Nick Moraitis about the ethics and alignment of mission, strategy and investment in social change. Very often social entrepreneurs will possess incredibly ambitious goals about what they want to achieve. This may include eliminating poverty, stopping global warming, or reducing unemployment amongst a certain part of the population.
As Nick pointed out to me, there can often be massive gaps between the mission that is pursued, activities that are taken to achieve that and the budgets that exist to fulfill that mission. Is it ethical to set a goal that is grossly unachievable and selling that unattainable mission to beneficiaries, funders or supporters?
This lack of alignment between mission, strategy and investment is very common, and not necessarily because of any deliberate intent to mislead. In my experience there are a number of factors that contribute to this including a culture of inflating possibility, lack of skills in business planning, poor design processes and a lack of external reference checks around mission.
In terms of skill gaps there is a general lack of understanding of what it actually costs to achieve change. For me I was raised in the school of doing things on the cheap. I have become adept at finding free or low cost ways of achieving change at a local level, and have been involved in a bunch of initiatives that have done just that. I have less experience in working on complex global problems that require heavy financial investment and multidimensional strategies to achieve the mission. If I was to pursue the solving of a complex global problem, I personally would need a lot of external input in the design of an appropriate strategy and Read more
Where did the modern idea of charity and doing good come from? The notion of the non-profit as the primary vehicle for change is incredibly new in the grand scheme of Earth’s history. There are many drivers behind doing good, and it has also taken many forms and structures in society and community over time. I frame it here deliberately not from the point of view of ‘doing good’, but what has driven the emergence of new forms. That drive is a deep cultural and psychological need to be ‘saved’ or ‘to save’.
It all began with this idea that The Gods will Save Us, or at least close to it. We actually originally thought we could save ourselves until we realised there were other forces at play beyond our control, AND, that saving oneself doesn’t always work!
So we attempted coexisting together for a while, yet were somehow powerless to the whims of the mighty Gods – victims in a world where we were unable to really make it for ourselves. This was at least until we noticed someone doing (or asserting) things a little different. He (or maybe she), showed us that …. Read more
This world seems to operate on some kind of speed, with the pace quickening and quickening at such a rate that it gains a momentum all of its own. This ‘speed’ is more than metaphorical, our world is actually operating on stimulant overdrive. Over the past ten years we have seen the rise of coffee consumption in the western world, and the prevalence of both prescriptive and non-prescriptive drugs that are helping our bodies regulate its pace.
I too succumbed to the binds of coffee. Like so many, at one stage my day wouldn’t be able to start without a ritual flat white (Soy FW actually). We justify it saying we like the taste, or we simply love the ritual, and some even say, but it’s just my one and only vice. I am not actually judging the consumption of coffee here. Clearly we have some kind of need it, and perhaps more than simply because of a physiological addiction. In talking with friends and colleagues, they say that they need it to keep up with the frenetic pace of the world around them.
Some jobs and industries are ‘naturally’ fast-paced, like stock trading and base jumping (and look at the risks in those industries). Slowing down the pace of base jumping may make the sport redundant or in the least unappealing to those seeking the rush. The same could be said of stock trading, as well as the loss of opportunity.
Other industries have also caught up with the need for speed, with this pace infilrating education, health and the environment. We want quick fixes, we want results and we want it now. And yes, this is no more true than in the field of doing good. Read more
I want to explore the idea of rescue as an approach to changemaking, and why some aspects of the ‘rescue industry’ have hidden ethical challenges. This is a follow on from my post on how to rescue a racehorse, which explored a new rescue-based idea to tackle problems in the horse-racing industry.
Rescuing others is not a new concept in the changemaking world. We are familiar with animal rescue organisations that play a role in protecting the rights of animals, and providing support and shelter when at their most vulnerable. Although often not referred to in this way, rescue work also happens with people who are in vulnerable positions (like children). I am not here to lay any judgement on these organisations; I do want to explore the nature of rescue and other ways of creating change.
A more recent field in which this meme has entered is that of ‘food rescue’. Food rescue is the process whereby wasted food is ‘rescued’ from restaurants to be given a ‘second life’ by distributing to those who could use it. In both the US and Australia (and beyond), food rescue organisations have attracted an enormous amount of support and public acclaim. The social entrepreneurs behind these ventures in both countries have been heralded as visionary leaders doing important work.
Rescuing food seems somewhat different to rescuing animals or vulnerable people. In one sense, the food itself does not experience vulnerability in the same way. Environmentally of course, the wastage of food in the hospitality industry is a massive problem. Read more
About a month ago a guy pitched me his idea in an elevator (yes, it actually happens). His idea was to ‘rescue a racehorse’. Actually, he wanted to not just rescue one racehorse, he wanted to rescue thousands of them. He explained to me what he saw as a problem of racehorses being slaughtered for the use of dog food. This problem by his accounts is not insignificant – one site quotes 18,000 Australia horses slaughtered each year.
The guy who pitched me the idea was a successful entrepreneur in his own right. Not having worked in the ‘social entrepreneurship’ space he wanted some quick advice as to what legal structure he should adopt. I replied along the lines of “these problems are often more complex than simple legal advice would warrant”. Despite his confidence in the solution, I managed to convince him that we should meet to discuss.
When we sat down the following week to explore the problem of racehorse slaughter, the complexity of the problem became more apparent. His original idea was to set up an organisation that allowed people to adopt racehorses or foals that were being sent to slaughter. He had a neat little funding model for it, and sales campaign idea that at first glance seemed like it would be attractive to people out in the market.
I asked him what other new problems this ‘rescuing’ might create. We came up with a list including: Read more