Social Entrepreneur Corps leads innovative and dynamic impact immersion programs in Latin America. As the sister organization to the award-winning Community Enterprise (CE) Solutions, they work alongside local partners and University participants supporting the creation, growth and impact of social innovations focused on intelligently alleviating poverty. Together they create sustainable impact in the field while helping university students to gain the skills and knowledge to become the social entrepreneurs of the future. Notre Dame’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship has a strong and enduring relationship with Social Entrepreneur Corps. This post originally appeared on their blog.
Our core values shape the way that we approach empowerment in all aspects of our work. They guide everything from our internal team dynamics to how we engage with our collaborators to how we co-create social innovations with our community friends and partners. One such value is inclusivity, a critical component to our view of social entrepreneurial success.
Inclusivity is both a means and an end. With election season starting to take off, the way elections operate offer a valuable perspective on the importance and symbolic nature of inclusivity. In a democracy, each person in society is included in the process of choosing leadership, and by extension a stated governing philosophy, through “one person, one vote”. I say symbolic because in practice we all know that, due to Super PAC’s, corruption, voter suppression laws, etc., our practice of democracy is not perfect. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” So, democracy is, at its heart, aspirational in the same way that the core values of Social Entrepreneurship Corps are aspirational. Democracy is imperfect and a work in progress, just like social entrepreneurship. Democracy aspires to have inclusive elections (the means) so that the laws that govern us are fair and just for both the majority and minority (the ends). And we know that, if we fail at building inclusive representation and rules, we can find ourselves going down the rabbit hole. The consequences of a lack of inclusivity are dire.
From a social entrepreneurship perspective, a clear goal (the end) is inclusivity. The premise behind the need for a social entrepreneurial approach is that the current system isn’t working. We work to create social innovations with and for marginalized, impoverished, and vulnerable populations who are currently being excluded in some way. By excluded, I mean that they are not afforded access to dignified opportunities to become empowered to achieve their goals and aspirations. To be clear, this is not about managing outcomes. That is impossible. It is about co-creating systems and processes that create dignified opportunities that have, to date, been suboptimal or non-existent. What individuals and communities do with these opportunities is up to them, as it should be.
However, no one can say with a straight face that children from low income families in many inner cities in the US have as dignified of an opportunity for educational success as their wealthy counterparts in the suburbs. This is not about fault-it is about facts. So are we going to try to do something about it or not? We say ‘let’s try’. Do low income women in rural India have access to dignified forms of credit for their businesses? Do autistic young adults have dignified opportunities for employment? Do rural Haitians have dignified opportunities to vision care? Inclusivity is about working with people who, through no fault of their own, are currently excluded in some way so that they can become more included in creating a better world for themselves, their families and their communities. And we would contend that this effort creates a better world for all of us! This is simple to say but as we know, really hard to do. We use a social entrepreneurial approach and simply do the best that we can with what we have.
Inclusivity is no less important as a means. Without being inclusive in our means we won’t have inclusive ends. This is critical in two key facets of our work; problem diagnosis and solutions design. As David Bornstein says, “Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They view the villagers as the solution, not the passive beneficiary. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they’re serving.” As such, those affected by a problem/challenge must be 100% included in the diagnostic process.
This seems obvious but is one of the greatest failures we see in our field. We need to have a “co-diagnostic” process or we end up continually addressing only symptoms or the entirely wrong problem. It is this understanding that has driven so much of the human-centered design movement. This goes the same for the solution. Solutions must be co-designed to include all stakeholders in the creative process or they will surely fail. Moreover, this is not just about design but is just as important for implementation. Participation (inclusivity) fosters a sense of ownership. When people have been involved in the process of problem diagnosis and solution design they are much more likely to “own” the implementation because it is “theirs”.
Two notes of caution here though. Inclusivity does not mean everyone is involved at all times in the decision making process. That is impractical, leads to “too many cooks”, and is paralyzing. Inclusivity should never be seen as a substitute for leadership. Leaders know when to build inclusivity into the process and when not to. But the overall process in and of itself must be based on fostering the most optimal amount of inclusivity as possible. And secondarily, we cannot confuse inclusivity with being overly deferential. By this I mean we have a tendency to be hands off and say “Only those affected should decide because I am an outsider”. Everyone adds value to the process. Don’t let a desire to be inclusive subvert your ability to add value. Social entrepreneurship is based on the idea that everyone brings something to the table and can be part of both the diagnostic and solutions team. There are many other ways that inclusivity is critical when it comes to building sustainable partnerships and in scaling social innovations, however I will leave those for another day.
To conclude, our goal is to co-build inclusivity where it is lacking and to do so in a way that is inclusive. And you don’t get one without the other. Here at Social Entrepreneur Corps we work with students and professional teams to do just this. We include participants in all phases of problem diagnosis. Participants work with our team to engage with community members to understand their needs, wants, limitations and opportunities. We work to get past real needs to felt wants. And we analyze the current systems to find out where the gaps and breakdowns might be that are creating a lack of access to dignified opportunities for inclusivity. In addition, we include participants in the solution design process. Participants work as consultants with everyone involved and are tasked with creating social innovation solutions (deliverables) upon departure. We then take those ideas as an organization and embed them in our work with communities moving forward. It is our goal at Social Entrepreneur Corps to include the leaders of tomorrow (our participants) in innovating inclusive social impact solutions based on intentional diagnosis. Through this, they learn how to become the types of leaders they aspire to be and help individuals, families and communities in Guatemala, Ecuador, The Dominican Republic and Nicaragua achieve their own dreams and aspirations. This is inclusivity squared!
If you are interested in participating in inclusive social entrepreneurship we would love to have you. Apply now and change your world while you change the world.
Greg Van Kirk was recognized as a Schwab Foundation “Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012 (Latin America)” at the World Economic Forum. He is a member of the Ashoka/Siemens Foundation Community Impact Development Group and the Clinton Global Initiative. He has served as an economic development consultant for organizations such as USAID, Chemonics, VisionSpring, Soros Foundation, Church World Service, IADB, Water For People and Fundacion Paraguaya. A frequent lecturer and speaker at the University of Notre Dame and Irish Impact, Greg also contributes time as “Social Entrepreneur in Residence” and has worked with Columbia University, NYU, Marquette University, Indiana University, University of San Diego and Arizona State University. Greg is a graduate of Miami University and currently lives with his family in New York City. You can see Greg’s TEDx talks at UNC here and at BYU here.