5 Social Change Pros Offer Advice To Young Entrepreneurs
Young people these days are wired differently. And that’s a good thing, according to Dr. Vera Cordeiro, founder of the award-winning Saúde Criança Association in Rio de Janeiro.
“Through my contact with a significant number of young people not only in Brazil but also in many different countries around the world, I’ve perceived a shift in values that is clearly reflected in the life choices they want to make or have already made. This behavior is very different from past generations,” she said.
“In fact, for many of them, it doesn’t make sense to only work to promote the well-being of their families. They want to use their talents to advance society on a grand scale—to transform the reality we live in.”
Young people know what’s going on around the world. They’re aware of the problems. And, more than ever before (it seems), they’re doing something about them. It’s a change that, for Cordeiro and others, is now discernible on a global scale for everyone’s benefit.
If you’re an aspiring changemaker, read on. I recently asked a handful of social change pros what advice they’d give to young social entrepreneurs.
Habiba Cooper Diallo, Founder of Women’s Health Organization International
“The key for young people who are interested in starting an organization is persistence. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to help grow your organization or to increase your knowledge base in order to extend your impact in your area of innovation. For me that’s meant pursuing study abroad and academic summer programs, reaching out to individuals and organizations for networking purposes, and, most recently, participating in a boot camp for emerging innovators. Being persistent in starting or in growing an organization is especially important when you’re young, given the many other commitments you have to take on—school, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities—whilst being devoted to your organization at the same time.
“But the most important piece of advice that I would give to a young social entrepreneur is: strike a balance between the work you do for your organization and the time spent on school or other activities. Be clear as to how you will achieve that balance. Write out a plan on paper, put it up on your wall and make sure to stick to it.”
Lisa Smith, Director at Unilever Ventures
“Know where you’re good. Know where you can learn, so that you fill your own knowledge gaps. But then go out and seek experts.
“And get some people with the been-there-done-that scars that can help you through some of the very depressing moments that you’ll have when you think, ‘I just can’t do this anymore, it’s overwhelming.’ It isn’t. You just need to pick yourself back up.”
Ken Banks, Founder of FrontlineSMS
“1. Don’t be in a hurry. Change doesn’t happen quickly. Generally speaking, it’s a long game.
2. Don’t assume you need money to grow, either. That’s a very commonly-made mistake. Money is helpful but, sometimes, money can be a hindrance.
3. Avoid politics. Don’t get dragged down by the politics of the sector that you’re working in. There are politics everywhere. I’ve met many people who spend the majority of their time justifying their work and fighting politics than actually doing the work. Stay focused and let other people do the talking.
4. Learn to do things you can’t afford to pay other people to do.
5. Remind yourself precisely what it is you’re looking to solve or fix—and stick with it. Say ‘no’ to things that might detract you from your path. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that because you feel you’re losing opportunities, but you’re better off doing one thing incredibly well rather than doing 10 things averagely well. … Remember the bigger picture.”
Nicky Dee, University of Cambridge
“People are the most important aspect of [changing the world]. It’s always a danger when you have an individual entrepreneur making it about their own ego… Some of the successful entrepreneurs I know, they’ve certainly not made it all about themselves. Instead, they’ve done everything that they can to really support and help their company thrive as almost a separate individual. In that sense, it’s almost your goal to remove yourself from being a critical part in the equation.
“And never be afraid to talk about your idea. I know people worry about patenting and those kinds of things, but actually, in general, the only way to refine your idea is to talk about it.”
Curt Bowen, Executive Director of Semilla Nueva
“The world will give you lots of cheerleaders. But find a few people that you can tell absolutely everything to. Find a couple people you can really trust to guide you through the process.
“As a young social entrepreneur you’ll want to make the most amount of good possible and you’ll want it to be now. But you also have to balance that with a process that can fix a deeper problem. Balancing immediate impact vs. the systematic problem is really the space of a social entrepreneur.
“A lot of people I know go one way or the other. To have those both in your head at the same point is really hard, but that’s what it takes.”
Unilever, the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and Ashoka Changemakers are looking for the next generation of business leaders. Do you have an innovative solution? Enter it today.