Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Mario Ferro’s blog, www.imaginethereisno.org, on May 18, 2012 as the last entry in a four-part series on social entrepreneurship. Read the full series here.
Social entrepreneurship is solitary. I have already mentioned this topic in a previous post (here), but this time I take it more personally.
Many people will love your work, but few people truly understand what you do and more importantly why you do it. As a social entrepreneur you will find a lot of times that you are explaining your vision once again to a new person, a journalist, a potential investor, or a person met in a bar and they will look at you in admiration or with skepticism. Very few times you will be able to spot in their eyes the level of empathy that will give you full satisfaction.
You may be misunderstood by your contemporaries for a long long time and let’s be honest, the reason is that probably you are one of those working on an issue that only you and few others can be passionate about, in parts of the world where most people cannot survive for more that three days on a bus tour. Beside understanding that you are doing something “good” and maybe grasping the basic elements of your basic model, you will never be in the position of a rich banker, a bollywood star, one of those people about whom other say “I’d like to be like him”. To you, most people may say “You are doing a great job, keep it up and best of luck!”
Few people would understand why. Few people take the time to explore the void in your soul that leads you to give up what you have, leave the traditional path to start your social venture, a job that will leave your bank account empty, your health at risk and jeopardize many of your relationships. Most people may simplify your whole self and say “s/he is a great person”, putting you in that group of people that are good, maybe Mahatmas. But that’s too easy, right?
The reality is that you have a problem, you have a big problem with something that you cannot tolerate, that keeps happening and you feel like there is nothing else you can really do with your life but figure out how to address it. And this problem is something that very few people would get and how you feel about it, and that is at the essence of that solitude that keeps you up at night and that consumes you.
But sometimes somebody gets it! And this the good news. It happens with people you did not expect to meet, sometimes they are social entrepreneurs themselves, they just get it and they can express your vision with adjectives beyond “good”, “great” and “admirable.” I have experienced some rare moments of this level of understanding- I can count them on one hand- and they are precious, they are energizing, they allow you to go on for a few more months. These moments are like islands in the ocean, beautiful green islands where your soul can get some juicy fruit and fresh water before continuing the journey, but be ready it is going to be a long solitary sail.
This post is part of a series of lessons learnt (by me) while was an Acumen Fund Fellow working with Husk Power Systems in Bihar (India). The aim is to share insider view on the pains and wonders, the joy and blunders, the frustration and inspiration of social entrepreneurship. Here you can find the lesson one, two and three.
Mario Ferro was an Acumen Fund Global Fellow in 2011 at Husk Power Systems. He is the founder of Wedu, an organization that empowers student leaders, especially girls, from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to become masters of development in their home communities.