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Find Your Inner Social Entrepreneur

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We all have bad days at work. It’s hard to count the number of times I personally have spent the long ride home in my life-force-sapping high heels dreaming of a different commute-say, moving to Africa to set up a school for girls. Oh, the life (I think to myself); to have a job where I know I am making a difference in the world every day! But at some point in my shoeless daydream, reality hits, and I end up back in heels the next day. But I’m always left wondering: if there were a way to combine my passion for a social mission with business discipline, innovation, and determination, would I recognize it and go for it? Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about “social entrepreneurship,” which has gotten me thinking: could this be the answer to my prayers? I dug in, did some research, and found that the answer is both yes and no. There are plenty of ways social entrepreneurship is just a buzz word, paraded by businesspeople with less-than-noble goals. But I also learned that there are takeaways for people who want their career to have positive social value, whether you’re someone who wants to run away to Africa and save the lives of children or someone who just wants to make their current job feel a little more rewarding.

Social Entrepreneurship: Making of a Movement

To learn a little more about this buzz word, I spoke to Lara Galinsky, a Senior Vice President of Echoing Green, an extraordinary organization that funds social entrepreneurs though fellowships. Lara recently published the book Work on Purpose, her collection of stories and tips for finding a meaningful job targeted at the millennial generation.

Echoing Green thinks of social entrepreneurship as being undertaken by individuals who dream up and take responsibility for an innovative and untested idea for positive social change, and usher that idea from dream to reality. Playing off of the hopes and dreams of millennials by infusing business principles into doing good, social entrepreneurship has truly taken off in the last decade. Academic institutions have been developing core concepts of the social entrepreneurship movement for years (think triple bottom line, microfinance, and carbon offsetting). Obviously, there are kinks to work out with many of these movements, and there are plenty of instances of greed overtaking a company bearing the name of social entrepreneurship. But even so, as more and more Gen Y graduates with exposure to these ideas enter the job market, jobs that are not-only-for-profit have become hot tickets. This sounds wonderful, but realistically, we aren’t all going to dramatically quit our professional jobs tomorrow to make the jump into a potentially non-salaried world to champion social change. Lara points out that not only is this okay, it’s actually a good thing. To efficiently build a healthier world, we don’t actually need billions of social entrepreneurs. Having too many people trying to start new initiatives leads to duplicity and wasted resources. Rather, we need millions of people to join the social entrepreneurship movement – lots of boots-on-the-ground to volunteer, staff, develop, change, and donate. It is a choice, and a journey in self-awareness, to figure out what role you can play in the social entrepreneurship movement, so to make it a little easier, Lara provided us with some great tips.

The Heart (Defining Your Commitment)

The first step to determine how you fit into the social entrepreneurship movement is taking the time to listen to your heart. Think about what motivates you, what drives you to action, and what gets you out of bed in the morning. My personal stumbling block is that I get caught up focusing on how to better advance the career I have at the moment, instead of being able to consider the long-term impact I want from my professional life. Lara and the crew at Echoing Green define the term “career” very broadly: what pays your bills, how you spend your time, and what matters to you. Figuring out how you now allocate your time amongst the various parts of your career, and how you – in the future – want to allocate your time, is an exercise in defining your commitment to be a part of the social entrepreneurship movement.

The Head (Exploring Your Options)

Passion alone can’t always get you where you want to go. To make your dreams of social entrepreneurship into reality, use your head and think about what it is that you bring to the table that makes you a change agent. We all have strengths and weaknesses – seriously consider your innate skill sets, beliefs, and talents, and use them to your advantage. Moreover, take opportunities to talk to people to brainstorm ideas, explore your skills, and come up with suggestions for getting involved. Input is just as valuable from your roommates as from your role models on ways to use your skills to forward social change.

Heart + Head = Hustle (Making It Happen)

Once you’ve determined a) what you are passionate about and b) what talents you can contribute, you have the tools to get down to business to solidify your place in the social entrepreneurship movement. Your goal may be as easy as finding a local non-profit in your city to donate $15 or as ambitious as making a career switch in the next 6 months. For people like me who are focused on professional success, Lara recommends taking a hard look at the other parts of your “career” beyond your day job. Think about how to really be strategic in leveraging opportunities you already have, or ones you’d like to find, to further skills used in your day job or to explore potential career next steps. Currently volunteering as a reading tutor? Take on the project coordinator role one day a week to test the waters of managing initiatives for non-profits. Want to become a better writer, while doing good? Explore formal channels, such as writing articles on going green for your university alumni newsletter, or informally start a blog of your signature recipes to advocate eating local ingredients. Lara has compiled a list of resources for getting involved on her website. Like many of you, I know I’ve had lackluster volunteer experiences using much less than my whole brain (filing or data entry, anyone?). Don’t expect the ideal fit to come with your first venture into social entrepreneurship. Lara recognizes that unattractive tasks are a reality, and that the path to the perfect, meaningful role is rarely straight. Just remember: these experiences give you an opportunity to analyze what you like and what you don’t, what runs smoothly and what doesn’t. And most of the time, if you stick it out and demonstrate commitment and competence, your role will expand into something more to your liking. You unleash your fullest potential, get in the zone, and achieve your “hustle.” It may take some sweat-and a healthy dose of patience-but when your passion (your heart) aligns with the responsibility that you have been able to grow because of your skills (your head), you will be inspired by the work that you are doing. Maybe more importantly, you’ll be motivated to keep doing it (the hustle). So next time you find yourself daydreaming of a meaningful career, remember Lara’s advice and take the first steps to find your inner social entrepreneur!

Photo: Getty Images

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