Reflections on first experiences as a social entrepreneur.
For many years in my life, I have been struggling to acknowledge the state of the world we live in and the changes that are happening around us, and within us, and that are threatening our home. What the world’s state means not only to me as a young adult, my life, and my future but especially to the people, animals, and nature at the frontline of the incomprehensible social and environmental injustices of the times we are living in. Whose voices and hearts are screaming the loudest but cannot be heard or understood enough – for most of us have lost our ability to listen and understand their language. And most importantly relate to through compassion. We have forgotten how to open our hearts to feel with and for them, our minds to understand them, our ears to listen to them, and our physical and emotional touch to connect with them.
I have felt numbed by this disconnection, not really knowing how I could confront or change it. Avoiding being honest with myself and knowing that my fear of not being able to handle opening my heart to these injustices was holding me back. But deep within, I do not believe and refuse to believe it is in our nature as humans to be so disconnected from one another and the environment. And although my fears and insecurities of not being able to make a difference have been so strong, I know that it is not in my nature to keep silent or stand still in inaction.
That inner voice and part of myself that knew there was a way to reconnect and therefore contribute to change, no matter how small, has been getting louder and louder. It was quiet at first but recently it has been demanding and impossible for me to push aside. Because things are changing rapidly, and time is running out. It’s time for us to come together to act. For me, social entrepreneurship is one possible way to do this.
Throughout my experiences and learnings in the Leadership for Sustainability program at Malmö University, particularly now in the Social Innovation, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability course, I have slowly begun to start shaping a definition of what it means to be a social entrepreneur.
To me, it is a way to express my values and beliefs in relation to humanity, our life on and with earth and other species while serving them in a way that co-exists alongside the system we live in and reshapes it over time. An approach that invites me to challenge and overcome my ego, fears, and insecurities, to open my heart, to reconnect with what is at the core of what I believe to be important to fight for in society and for the environment to then express and share in a way that makes a meaningful and impactful contribution.
While I have learned a lot throughout these first social entrepreneurial experiences during our SEC case and my further experiences throughout the Level Up program at Drivhuset, three key lessons have stuck with me that I believe to be central and unique to being a social entrepreneur as well as working with other people within the sphere of social entrepreneurship.
Social Entrepreneurship and the Ego
While we all struggle with our ego as human beings, I feel that if I want to contribute to the world as a social entrepreneur, then social entrepreneurship does not have a place for my ego and its manifestation in the form of fears, insecurities, and competitiveness. If I allow my ego too much freedom, my actions and decisions as a social entrepreneur will most likely not have the impact that they could have without it. My ego will only get in the way, slow me, others and, most importantly, the core of the mission and vision of the social enterprise, down.
Of course, it is not easy to just “dismiss” my ego. I am also seeing the value of social entrepreneurship therein, that it challenges it and therefore holds potential for personal growth, almost in a therapeutic way. To let go of my ego as a social entrepreneur, there are several things I have experienced that I believe would support this process. The most important include opening my heart and mind to human connection through collaboration and teamwork more. Incredible magic may happen as I have experienced throughout the week of working on our SEC idea! Second, let curiosity, willingness to learn, empathy and compassion, understanding and listening lead the way and be the foundation upon which decisions and actions are built. Attitude, mindset and how I hold myself within myself and towards other people and the cause are central.
Patience and Trust
Social entrepreneurship can be very rewarding, especially since I have found to deeply enjoy the process and the challenges it often brings with it. I am learning that although I like to ideate, engage, and explore, it is equally important to be patient and trust that everyone has their own pace. Going step by step and doing one thing at a time, at least for me, makes the results more meaningful and impactful. When flow states and creativity knocks on the door, I cannot help but put aside whatever I’m doing to let them in. That being said, due to the nature of the social and environmental challenges social entrepreneurs often face, it is essential to respect the process and also to take breaks and not obsess. Nothing will work if I am not taking care of myself or being compassionate and patient towards the team I am a part of.
When it comes to trust, I think I will need to learn how to trust myself and my intuition more so as not to get distracted by loud but possibly unimportant forces. Personally, I would like to get better at giving myself and others the space to develop and explore together more freely without pressure or judgment.
It’s Only the Beginning
I am at the very beginning of my journey as a social entrepreneur, and I see myself now as being in a stage of learning to have the courage to explore different ideas, approaches, tools, and methods for ideas that I (we) have to solve certain issues. I would rather try out many ideas and fail fast with most of them now than be afraid and regret not trying anything at all. The deeper aim of this experimentation is not only to develop skills but also to discover which social and/or environmental issue I would like to address and contribute to finding solutions to in the long run. I have also found that ideas change over time and that working with social entrepreneurship is a process. It’s often not necessarily about the idea but listening to the beneficiaries and understanding the problem that I or we as a team are trying to solve.
Being introduced to the movement of social entrepreneurship and the people working in its spirit has given me the spark of hope that I have been searching for to work towards a more inclusive, just, healthy, balanced, and sustainable way of life in society and with our home planet.
“I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when they’re empowered to take action.” - Jane Goodall
Written by Anna Maria Bracio.
Cover photo by Ross Findon.