Dear Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs

Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Entrepreneurship

The following is a guest post by Brian Reich, author of Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society


Want to know how you can have the most meaningful, measurable impact on the world? It is simple: stop creating new organizations.

There are more than a million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States, and tens of thousands of new nonprofits are created every year. Corporations are establishing new divisions and special projects focused on social issues all the time. More and more people announce their commitment to help address serious issues every day. Ultimately, everyone ends up competing for the same dollars and the same attention from the public, and fighting to serve the same need. It has to stop.

I recognize that a vibrant community of organizations all working to address serious issues will spur new ideas and innovation in how to serve the public. However, many of the new groups that are launched don’t seem to have commitments that are different, improved, or appropriately focused. And even if they are, there is such a thing as too much. We are overwhelmed. There are simply too many pro-social organizations, too many new platforms being launched, too many promises being made, too many messages being sent, too many options for people to process—and not enough success or progress being made.

More money won’t solve most of the problems, and investing it in the wrong ways will only make the situation worse. Better marketing won’t mask the fact that organizations aren’t achieving their goals. New initiatives, projects, campaigns, and models won’t inspire people to act or help people to focus where the needs are greatest. There is too much noise.

Instead of creating more groups or launching new campaigns, we need to take a good, hard look at all the organizations out there and make some choices about which ones are truly effective and worthy of continuing to operate. Want to have a significant impact? Help us tackle that challenge. We need to find the groups that are operating successfully and figure out how to apply their expertise to other areas that are struggling. Want to have a significant impact? Help the many organizations that are focused on the same challenges to collaborate and work collectively to make progress toward their common goal.

We need to get rid of the egos–the people who run organizations and allow their personal interests and their organizational priorities to interfere with progress on an issue are getting in the way. Want to have a significant impact? Make sure you don’t fall into the trap that so many smart, passionate, well-meaning individuals who have come before you did. Break the mold and redefine the role of a social entrepreneur. There are plenty of organizations that could go out of business and merge their expertise with others who have a greater capacity to grow their impact or refocus their energy in a way that better serves a specific need or creates more opportunities for others to act. Creating another organization, launching a new campaign, developing more platforms—these efforts, even when done with the best intentions, only serve to get in the way of the more important and immediate changes that are needed. In fact, every time a new organization is created, we make the task more difficult. The energy and resources that are devoted to new ventures, particularly when they overlap in many ways with existing ventures that would benefit from improvements, are being wasted.

Your incredible passion is needed. The experience, perspective and expertise that you bring to this important challenge of addressing serious issues is extraordinarily valuable – and when applied appropriately will have a meaningful, measurable impact. But the desire to start something new, to build it from scratch, to make a name for yourself in the process — that is misplaced. You want to change the world. We all want to see the challenges that face our society addressed. Let’s commit, together, to doing in the right way.

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