Social Entrepreneurship

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a discussion with three founders of social enterprises: Michael Brown of City Year, Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year, and Kirsten Lodal, LIFT.

Perhaps what was most striking was how these three entrepreneurs – at different stages of their life, managing organizations at different stages of growth – connected to each other and drew inspiration from each other.

Falik had talked to Brown when she was in business school and putting together the first pieces of the plan that became Global Citizen Year. Lodal’s path had been transformed by taking a bridge year – something Falik’s organization hopes will become the norm.

Brown had been working the longest of the bunch, having co-founded City Year with Alan Khazei in 1988.

All three spoke about their own path to service, as well as the transformation they hope to inspire within those who work with their organizations.

Brown had perhaps the most interesting metaphor – comparing what he called the “idealist’s journey” to Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” He spoke of idealism as a skill – as an ability to see the world differently and to think strategically about how to bring about that change.

He said we wants to institutionalize idealism.

Lodal spoke about the how critical broader public perception is – policy is important, she said, is actually downstream from culture.

Efforts to improve the world need to focus on perception, practice, and policy – changing the way the general public thinks about an issue as well as implementing policy to address that issue. The false concept of “welfare queens” has real damage to progress.

All three spoke about hitting a person’s “social justice nerve” through constant inspiration.

And perhaps most importantly, all three argued vehemently that an individual can be part of systems change – that each person must work in their own way to make the world better, and that slowly, bit by bit, those small changes lead to big changes. Important changes.

This work, they said, provides access to the miraculous.

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