Tag Archives: NYU Reynolds

Social Entrepreneurs Prioritize Changemaking First

by Trabian Shorters

Are Social Entrepreneurs indeed Earth’s next best hope for survival, prosperity, utopia? Sure, why not. Believe what you choose to believe about it. It is just a term. It doesn’t ultimately matter what you call the people who would rather do it than define it.

As someone who has been labeled a social entrepreneur, and then was asked to find social entrepreneurs for Ashoka, and now is asked to coach emergent social entrepreneurs for NYU’s Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship, I am most surprised by two things:

  1. How fast one goes from 20-something aspirant as I was, to mentor material. That time flies much faster than you would imagine.
  2. How calculated, cautious, and afraid the current generation of “changemakers” appears to me.

So maybe, as a mentor, I can earn my chops by having an opinion on that.

The desire to simultaneously “make a difference” and “earn a living” is admirable and good – but you do have to prioritize one over the other. There is no “program” for social change nor a meaningful life. You must already have that desire kindled inside of you. It is the root of courage. For some, the desire to make a difference smolders and for others it burns. The rest are faking. Like any true love, it is impossible to embrace “social change” from a safe distance.

So let’s talk about “risk-management.”

Your willingness to risk normally decreases as you age. That’s why all those people who tell you that they will make their money first and then commit to changing the world are proven wrong 99% of the time. If you are too afraid to risk it now, that usually means that you plan to have far more to lose in the future.

I know that the many people who want to make social entrepreneurship a “field” say that we should have many levels of tolerance – from charismatic prodigy to nonprofit paper shuffler. Fine by me but let’s not confuse wage-making with changemaking.

Social change is NOT a field. It is a calling – a profession in the original meaning of the word. You may be called by your faith, your conscience, your ancestors, or your circumstances but the optimistic belief and integrity of a zealous changemaker (by whatever label) is vital to human progress. That makes it sacred.

I like the way that John Gardner described it.

“[People] of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that as a people we can live above the level of moral squalor. We need that belief; a cynical community is a corrupt community.”

I often encourage young people to fail big as soon as they possibly can because learning how to get back up is far more useful than learning how to never fall down. You would still be crawling if this were not inherently true. Think how limiting that life would be.

Time flies so how long should you crawl? Are you a changemaker by any name?


Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speaker Series

The NYU Reynolds Program’s 2008-09 Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speaker Series kicks off on October 8 at 12pm with Whole Foods Founder and CEO John Mackey. This free event takes place at the Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Room 914, but seating is limited and an RSVP is required. 
Other speakers in this year’s series include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (November 12), Ethos Water founder Peter Thum (February 10), and Echoing Green CEO Cheryl Dorsey (March 3). Other speakers to be announced as they are scheduled. Download the complete schedule here. 
Last year’s series featured BRAC Founder and CEO Fazle Hasen Abed, College Summit CEO and Founder J.B. Schramm, Blended Value Founder Jed Emerson, Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, International Bridges to Justice Founder and CEO Karen Tse, and Partners in Health Co-Founder Paul Farmer. Learn more about the NYU Reynolds Speaker Series and access videos and podcasts of previous events.