Social Entrepreneurship is NOT About Self-Fulfillment

I participated in an event and discussion recently that really brought to the forefront something that I have already been thinking about for some time. What I’m seeing and hearing is social entrepreneurship being “pitched” as a means to self fulfillment, and a way of doing something meaningful and feeling good about what you are doing, in your career or otherwise.

Well I think we need a reality check here. While it’s great to want to do something that is “meaningful” and I’m glad that this drives many young people to social enterprise, doing good is not as fulfilling and glamorous as some make it out to be. In reality, what I see in my own work and hear from other social entrepreneurs is that it’s a thankless task. But what makes these people amazing is that they do it anyway.

I was talking to a social entrepreneur in the Philippines a few years ago, and something she said stays with me even today.

“You have to be prepared to have mud slung in your face by the people you are trying to help” 

This is so true and I’ve reminded myself of this many times since this conversation. It’s not that people don’t appreciate when you are trying to help them, but efforts to change a system or to do good can often be misinterpreted. You should not try to do good to get thanks for it or to find self-fulfillment, you should do it because you really believe that it is important, and are willing to deal with the negative consequences that can come from trying to instigate change or challenge the status quo.  

A recent article titled “A Letter to a Young Social Entrepreneur: Why the Poor are not Raw Material For Your Salvation” speaks to this point. We are not the first to have ideas to make the world a better place. Our efforts will not always be rewarded. But we should do it anyway. Be prepared to go broke, to have mud slung in your face, and to face numerous other challenges. Don’t expect to get thanks or appreciation or awards. Don’t do it for “badges” or recognition. Do it because you believe it’s right and do it no matter the consequences.