Language is a funny thing. Our entire worldviews can be shaped by the words that are or are not included in our vocabulary. Something may not be thought to exist or have legitimacy if there isn’t a word for it. This is something I keep coming up against. When people ask me, “Well Weezie, what is it that you want to be/do in the future?” I find it hard to answer because although I have an idea in my head of the kind of things I would love to do, there aren’t popular terms as of yet for many of them.
The word entrepreneurship has become a buzzword, brought on by the need for jobs and innovation given the economic state of our world. We know that the current educational system is not adequately preparing students with the entrepreneurial and flexible mindset needed for the changing nature of work. However, I feel as if there is in some ways too much of a focus on the word entrepreneur, which in most cases conjures up an image of a sole person who is building their own thing and creating something entirely new. Yes, we do need these people. And yes, there seems to be more and more resources, funding, and educational structures emerging to support them. But what we also need, are system builders, network weavers, point people, infrapreneurs, and intrapreneurs. Say what?
Two weeks ago I met with Rithesh Menon, Director of Partnerships for StartingBloc, which is a network and training program for young leaders. When I said that I was on a journey to explore the emerging trends and models for educating social entrepreneurs and innovators, he responded by saying that he wasn’t a big fan of the term social entrepreneur. StartingBloc, which is both a network and training program, is a community of people who are brought together by a common trait: they are all wanting to change or impact the world in some way. For some people this may mean that they have an idea for a social venture that they are willing to build and lead. However, there are many other roles that are needing to be filled in order to leverage true change.
It seems to me that many social initiatives, NGOs, and enterprises are siloed, which is not surprising due to tough competition for funding, investment, and recognition. But there are people who design their work to intentionally and skillfully weave together different efforts, often in the roles of consultants or free agents. They are connectors and facilitators acting as a neutral third party to assess various entities and efforts, helping to weave them together in such a way that their impact is more easily scalable and effective. As we see a demand for increasing collaboration in the work world, we will need these cross-pollinators to facilitate the partnerships and exchanges that occur. If you look around, you may notice that it’s becoming more common for people to work as a free agent or consultant to various groups (check out the Generation Flux article in Fast Company).
I first began thinking about these roles while I was in London last October and met with Cassie Robinson who was based at the co-working space Hub Westminister. Cassie is a perfect example of someone who is deeply committed to the system as a whole rather than just one project. As she puts it, “I’m interested in system builders as opposed to entrepreneurs.” She works on several different projects, and is able to bring various perspectives and opinions to them. Cassie and I talked about how much our society celebrates the entrepreneur, when we really need to be looking at these system changer roles as well.
As Cassie explained to me, “I can never apply to any programs for personal development, or support, or funding. You can apply if you’re a social entrepreneur.” She gave me an example of something called The Big Venture Challenge which awards 25 of the top entrepreneurs in the country. “I phoned them up because I just wanted to challenge them a little bit. In the application you had to say how you would go into an area in the UK and how you would basically help low-income people out of poverty. My argument to them was, ‘Why are you looking for a lone entrepreneur with one idea to be able to do that? There’s no way one organization or entrepreneur will be able to do that. There’s different aspects of a social problem like poverty and it would require a system for people. Why don’t you invest in people who know who those ten organizations would be and who could hold that together?’” They didn’t get it, although Cassie was understanding of their reaction as this need isn’t widely recognized at the moment. In addition to Cassie, I have had various other similar conversations that have come to the same conclusion. Funders and investors need to recognize, reward, and incentivize these critical roles to enable more people to take them on as jobs in the realm of social development.
On the other hand, there is also a need for those who work within an organization or business that already exists and who innovate from within. I’m all in for creating new structures and recombinations. But the fact is, there are so many existing things that can benefit from fresh insight and begin to evolve to become something more adapted for the present and future. We call these people intrapreneurs, and like system builders, I feel that there is not enough emphasis or even education on these roles and their importance. Let’s ensure that the evolving educational systems will be mindful of these gaps that need to be filled.
I could go on about this but for now I will just leave you all with a TEDx talk that also touches on these ideas!