Posted by: bevmeldrum | December 11, 2009

Creating opportunities for social entrepreneurial success

I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers. I always enjoy reading his work – I really like the way he pulls apart concepts that society tends to accept, such as success in this case, and then analyses how much of what we believe is actually true.

In the case of Outliers, Gladwell looks at what we believe about success and then deconstructs it to draw conclusions, some of what are quite surprising. I won’t spoil all of the surprises now.

What particularly stood out to me was that much of success is about access to opportunities. It’s not so much that I didn’t realise this before – it’s more than I hadn’t really thought about the significance of it in relation to supporting social entrepreneurs to achieve success.

Gladwell uses the example of Bill Gates of Microsoft. Gates attended a private school that had just so happened to have bought a PC terminal and ran a computer club (very uncommon in 1968). He spent hours learning how to use it. At university he had access to another mainframe and spent many hours, staying up all night on a regular basis, learning more about these computer systems.

Of course there are other factors for Bill Gates’ success but the one that interests me the most is access to opportunities. If Gates hadn’t had gone to that school, that had bought that mainframe, that had allowed students use of it; had he not gone to that university and hacked the system to allow himself unrestricted, free access then would he have been the success in the field that he is?

As someone who supports social entrepreneurs the question I’m now asking is how can create access to resources and support on social entrepreneurship to more people. Do we make it free? Do we use others mediums to deliver our offerings? Do offer more local on the ground support and less national (expensive to access) support? What are the options we haven’t explored.

An example of a successful programme that has bought new opportunities to a whole new group of social entrepreneurs is the BA Social Enterprise programme at Bromley-by-Bow. In partnership with the University of East London and with funding from the London Development Agency, the Bromley-by-Bow centre offered a degree programme in social enterprise to local people, many who are working in the Third Sector, who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do a degree any other way.

If social entrepreneurship is a creative response to social need, then shouldn’t support for social entrepreneurs should be creative in its approach? As we missing opportunities to help create successful social entrepreneurs because we are tied into rigid models of service delivery ourselves.

As we, here at For More Than Profit, get ready to re-focus our energies on supporting social entrepreneurs in a completely new culture – South Africa – one of things we’ll be looking at is how we can ensure that as many people as possible have access to the opportunities we, and those we work with, are able to provide. What an exciting future is ahead of us!


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