“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” Anne Frank
Mother Nature, Mother Courage, Mother of Invention….Regardless of whether they actually have progeny or not, throughout history, women traditionally have been looked upon as being “mothers”–nurturers– the salve for the wounds of society. Thus it should come as no surprise that so many Millennial women have turned to social entrepreneurship, where they doggedly seek out major social issues and relentlessly pursue avenues for wide-scale change in helping the poor and marginalized groups both nationally and internationally.
We Baby Boomers headed out into our world with the fiery determination to blaze paths and make our marks along the way. For many of us, that plan came to fruition, and for others life, careers and family took precedence. There were lots of opportunities to do good and repair the world–there were school fundraisers, and beach and park clean-ups, and toy and can drives at holiday time, but now, as we are approaching what Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Ellen Goodman, speaking at Stanford University, referred to as our “Encore Careers,” the question arises whether we over-50s truly can become the ambassadors of widespread change in this world by joining the Millennials and jumping on the social enterprise train.
According to an article in The London Business School’s “Biz Research,” those in the 50 and over age group are “grossly under-represented amongst social entrepreneurs.” Why? Ms Goodman suggested it may be that we are fearful of the challenge. We have led the change movement throughout our lives and yet now have become “change-averse.” At an age when earlier generations slowed down, we are just getting our second wind and we need to find purposeful endeavors. Social entrepreneurship can provide us with that.
Where entrepreneurs in general deal with business and money, social entrepreneurs are people, who, as “Forbes” puts it, “use business to solve social issues.” The concept of social enterprise is not a new one, in fact, Maria Montessori and Florence Nightingale can very well be referred to as some of the earliest women “socents.” Montessori revolutionized the early-childhood education system, and Florence Nightingale directed her efforts towards making changes in medical sanitation and nursing.
Years ago, it was government agencies that may have been doing the spearheading of programs and the backing of forward thinkers as they sought new ways to help those in need. Today, it’s people like Nancy Sanford Hughes, founder and president of StoveTeam International, an organization that manufactures more efficient (and safer) stoves for third world countries.
And it’s Toni Elka, who here in Boston, is the Executive Director and founder of Future Chefs, an organization that prepares urban youth for “quality employment and post-secondary education opportunities in the culinary field.”
These women, and a host of others, took their ideas and breathed life into them. When asked what makes someone an entrepreneur, Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating The Future, and the world’s first diaper bank, said, “You don’t become an entrepreneur, you are born one.” But how do those of us women of a “certain age,” who did not necessarily have the fire of entrepreneurship coursing through our veins since day one, but feel it now, capitalize on that? Can those of us who still feel the need to serve a greater good in life be successful during midlife?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The passion and intensity for social entrepreneurism can be developed and “nurtured” as well. The talents, and life and corporate experiences we have acquired through the years give us a jump start. Women are driven by impact, rather than scale, and the dream can be as grand as helping the world, or as small as helping a community in your town, but we CAN make a difference.
Here are some tips I gleaned from “Forbes” that might get the creative juices flowing:
Have a Plan: Whether you are interested in a for-profit or non-profit venture, putting your plan down on paper will help you focus and crystallize your vision. You then will be better prepared to explain your plan to others (i.e.: investors).
Identify Your Customer: Your customer can be your investors and/or the beneficiaries of your organization, but make sure you are clear on who they are and what their needs are.
Make an Emotional Connection: Regardless of how successful and grand your organization becomes, never lose sight of what your original passion was and what your goal is. Be true to your mission statement in its purest sense.
Many universities offer courses and entire programs on Social Entrepreneurship.
Another great source of information, and possibly assistance is Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, that supports the field of social entrepreneurship. https://www.ashoka.org/
Encore.org is another amazing organization that is building a movement to make it easier for millions of people to pursue second acts for the greater good.
My mom used to say that causes were rolling around in the streets; you could just about fall over them. Now is the best time for over 50s to seek out these causes, be part of the change, and live meaningful lives as we age. If we put aside our fears and hesitancy, and as Ellen Goodman put it, “let ourselves go,” we can revolutionize the world!