In the 21st Century the idea famously expressed by poet John Donne that ‘no man is an island’1 is once again coming to the fore. In social networks and social movements, we are finding ways to express ourselves as individuals while acting as responsible global citizens and nurturing a sense of community.
Contributing your entrepreneurial skills and professional experience to the world of social enterprise is an excellent way of making a difference to others while making all the difference to yourself. Becoming a social entrepreneur can give a real sense of purpose and meaning across your professional and personal life, but as an individual it can be difficult to know where to start. We hope the ideas we present here will help motivate you to explore how you can combine entrepreneurship with social responsibility to thrive both as an individual and as part of a growing global community.
“Only those that have travelled the road know where the holes are deep.” – Chinese proverb
One way to really expand your horizons is to physically put yourself in situations that are outside your comfort zone. You may be driven by a need to live your passions, or a desire to find your own path away from the obvious routes laid out before you. Or it could be you simply want to gain experience you can bring back to your ‘normal’ life and career. Whatever your motivation, there is nothing like first-hand experience.
For example, you could start researching or planning a future trip which will enable you to tread in the footsteps of your own carbon footprint, or allow you to gain a greater understanding of the potential consequences of your investment decisions as motivation to invest more responsibly. This is the rationale behind our own annual Next Generation Sustainability Leadership Programme, which gives some of our most valued clients the opportunity to go on an immersive journey from understanding to advocacy in the jungles of Borneo.
Closer to home, you could step outside your social circle and experience life with those who are less fortunate financially. For example, you might try volunteering for a homeless shelter or a charity working with underprivileged children. Philanthropy is not solely about donating money – time is another luxury which you may have the good fortune to be able to share with others, while your professional skills or entrepreneurial talent could be invaluable to a charitable cause.
By travelling out of your physical comfort zone and getting some hands-on experience you’ll be keeping good company. For example, as young men Laurance and Nelson Rockefeller, grandsons of John D. Rockefeller, worked as dishwashers on a shipboard expedition to the remote Canadian region of Labrador, a trip which is believed to have inspired Nelson’s lifelong interest in nature conservation. Meanwhile, celebrities including Ben Affleck, Selena Gomez, George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson have given their time to a wide range of aid charities, both in their home countries and in the third world.2
If you would like to get actively involved, there’s a good chance we can help through our network of contacts. Alternatively, you can find resources online, from global citizenship organisations to local food banks, and from charities focused on conservation to those promoting international development.
Doing the research
“There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.” – Russian proverb
While learning through direct experience can be extremely powerful, you can of course also widen your perspective through study, whether formal or informal. For some, study offers an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding they can incorporate into their existing life and career; for others it provides the impetus to set off in a completely new direction.
If you’re driven to pursue social entrepreneurship and philanthropy as a career there are a number of vocationally focused courses from leading global institutions, offered both online and in person, which could be for you.
If formal study doesn’t appeal, you could gain new perspectives through self-directed reading. There are plenty of books that can both provide advice and spur you to action – try the WEF’s ‘6 books to read if you want to change the world’3, or just search terms like ‘global citizenship’, ‘social impact’ or ‘social entrepreneurship’ in an online bookstore.
For those who prefer to consume information in bitesize chunks or simply want to keep up with the latest thinking, a growing number of websites and magazines such as Pioneers Post4, Rank & File5 and Change Magazine6 are devoted to social impact. A number of these sites include videos and podcasts so it’s not difficult to find material that matches your preferred learning style.
Our advice to clients, in life as in business, is keep learning, because you’ll never know enough.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." – African proverb
Another great way to get both informed and inspired is to engage with people who share your interests and motivations. Seeking connections, either with those who have ‘been there and done it’ or those who, like you, are exploring the possibilities, can be both professionally useful and personally rewarding.
You can find plenty of thought leaders and successful social entrepreneurs online on LinkedIn, Twitter and Medium. Many freely share hard-learned lessons from their personal experiences, and some may even be open to mentoring or at least giving specific advice.
It’s also worth looking for connections through your family, friends and wider social networks. Tell people about your ideas and the chances are someone will know someone with similar aims who is willing to help or collaborate – after all, giving advice costs nothing and offering support can earn a friend and ally.
Remember the Rockefellers and their trip to Labrador? Laurance went on to become a major contributor to the conservation and ecotourism movement, founding the American Conservation Association, advising a series of US presidents and winning a Congressional Gold Medal for his efforts. There is no reason why you cannot have an equally positive impact on the world, if you put yourself out there. As Rockefeller himself said, ‘People who try to play it safe lead very dull lives’.7
If you want help to expand your horizons in entrepreneurship and wealth management for social impact, speak to your Relationship Manager.