Does Fighting for the Cause Actually Solve the Problem?
Our consciousness as a society is influenced by the proliferation of ’heroes’ and ’martyrs’ who have sacrificed themselves for their cause.
In South Africa alone, we have countless examples from our liberation movement; Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Steve Biko and Walter Sisulu. Internationally, we have figures like Gandhi and others who also perpetuate the stereotype and create meaning. Hollywood movies, literature and other media consistently represent to us the hero/martyr archetype who sacrifices his or her personal needs for the ’Greater Cause’, for the Greater Good’ or for the ’Other’. At the centre of this thematic trend is Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the well being of all mankind.
I would never belittle the gifts these great leaders have bestowed upon humanity, but I simply wish to point to an architype left in the minds of individuals and organisations involved in ’making a difference’.
As a person who simply loves this planet, its people and its potential, my intention for this article is to bring to awareness to what I believe is one of the main factors inhibiting the success of sustainable development; the individual and collective ’poverty consciousness’ in the social economy.
When I sit with non profits and social entrepreneurs, I see this consciousness and mentality continuously informing discourse and I watch how the public and media glorify them and their endeavours, while it becomes more and more popular for celebrities to support their ’cause’.
But, I also see the other side of the curtain: The incessant, perpetual financial stress, the consistent need to beg for one’s existence, and the risk of exposed beneficiaries if the house of cards fall. Most acutely I am confronted with this idea of serving the ’greater good’ above serving oneself, to the point where even the families financially dependent on the ’do gooder’ are put at risk and become obsessed with the cause. They begin to see themselves as ’better’ than the plumber next door or ’more worthy’ than the local banker.
Within organizations I have borne witness to the high burn out rate among staff; the young, bushy tailed graduates, who have been given responsibilities way above their experience. I have noticed a mentality that everything should come free when you are involved in ’doing good work’ and the underlying, insidious ethos that free money (grants) is greater than building an efficient, effective and lean business. I meet with ’changemakers’ so often, and consistently they carry their passion together with their pain.
Although the ’intention’ of social entrepreneurship is to move past donor dependency and charity mindsets, I unfortunately don’t see this in any respect. On the contrary, with increasing and alarming frequency, I see resistance from investors to use the term “social enterprise,” choosing instead terms and concepts like ’impactful small businesses’, ’SGBs’ or ’mission orientated businesses’. The language is subtly different and speaks to market-based businesses with have strong social impacts.
I believe in an abundant world and in the power of market-based solutions creating this abundance. I believe it is possible to build a planet where financial, social and environmental impacts are all maximised. My biggest advice to entrepreneurs looking to do something purposeful; build a model which ’never’ sacrifices commercial profit for ’purpose’ or vice-versa. I believe that the most impactful businesses in the 21st century will maximise both. If one is involved in ’businesses which do good’ or ’touch society’, the only ’moral compass’ lies in how much profit is re-invested and distributed to shareholders. If you are looking to create a purposeful business, and you’re having the debate of ’for-profit’, ’non-profit’ or both – focus your energies on the for-profit first.
Whilst writing this article, I noticed a paper written by Dalberg Global Development Advisors titled ’The Single Bottom Line’, indeed NextBillion just posted a blog analyzing this article yesterday. From a corporate/multi-national perspective, this abstract confirmed my conviction in writing this article:
With a long enough time horizon, many social benefits created by the operations of for-profit companies can generate private benefits for the companies themselves. As a result, executives planning for the long term create social benefits in the most efficient way when they target a single bottom line – profit. Though calculating the private value of social initiatives under a single bottom line requires the use of estimates and probabilities, this approach offers greater efficiency in decision- making and more sustainable social benefits than schemes such as corporate social responsibility, creating shared value, and double- or triple-bottom lines.
The broader point being: you don’t have to be the martyr or the hero to make a tangible difference. You can tread lightly on this planet, and impact everyone (including yourself) positively. You can keep your mission and purpose and vision intact, but you just might need to find a different route to market – a route which serves ’you’ first and society.
I have witnessed the positive difference when individuals give up their own ’poverty consciousness’, and shift to market based/business solutions. Without fail they attract opportunity and abundance into their lives and this spills out into every aspect of their lives and the lives of those around them. With this shift, they also let go of emotional and psychological baggage from their past, which has the potential to change everything for them.
I believe it is possible for businesses of the 21st century to look like this. I believe that our next heroes and role models and change-makers won’t need to sacrifice the pleasure and joy and security in their lives, to solve the world’s most pressing issues. I believe we can redefine the heroes of our future as the struggle of the 21st century becomes squarely fixated on ending poverty and protecting our planet. If we are to do this, we must move away from charity and focus all our attention on models which create profit, opportunities and abundance for all.