by June O’Sullivan, London Early Years Foundation
We all like a good story and as someone who works with children, I particularly enjoy reading fairy stories to spellbound children. The stories are filled with characters who are good strong leaders and inevitably save the world from evil…
In the wider world, many people, including the Government love telling stories of fantastical social entrepreneurs out saving the world from evil capitalism and making success from the hopeless. Gosh, if you didn’t know better you might even believe them except when you stop listening you know it’s only a fable because we are still waiting for the real contracts and business opportunities.
In the Government story, the main character is a courageous social entrepreneur who has the courage, drive, determination, ambition and charisma of a Greek hero. We are Heracles, courageously building social businesses and inspiring others with our creativity, transformation and innovation. In fact we are so magical we can conjure up nebulous social capital and then turn it into real life trusting networks. Oh and of course, our willingness to take on the evil powers of capitalism which is probably on the same scale as Heracles persuading Atlas to put the sky back on his shoulders.
However, sadly in reality we are much more a tale of everyday folk; a mixed bag of individuals operating at different levels of success. We are, on the whole, a very driven and determined lot and generally keen to make a difference but so too are all business people. In our own way, all business entrepreneurs want to succeed and also make a profit. Of course, social entrepreneurs will use the profit differently either through profit sharing or through the business model, but in essence we are not herculean.
So if I was to write the story I might begin with…
Once Upon a Time, I wanted to run a social business. I decided I would need to know everything about my area of business. I became an expert on how to bring money in and spend it efficiently. I understood my customers and wasn’t upset to find they did not care about my social ambitions once I was able to give them value for money and be the best in the business. I tried my best to understand the changing political context while smiling and charming people so they would at least acknowledge me. I figured out about procurement, tenders and contracts so I could bid for them. I did what all sensible business people do. I tried to make a profit so I could spend it on doing more for apprentices, staff and families.
There is nothing mythological and fantastical in what social entrepreneurs do. Be careful not to be damned by all that faint praise. The mark of our success will be when we are taken seriously and treated as equal business partners. Keep the Greek myths for bedtime and while the daylight burns tell the story of ordinary folk. They usually win out in the end.