We are starting a weekly series of suggestions for would-be Social Entrepreneurs interested in developing social ventures called the 10 Commandments for Social Entrepreneurship. This series will cover initiatives that are designed to address any social problem around the globe and include 10 things that every socail entrepreneur must think or do before they jump in. This week we command that:
Thou Shalt Dig Deeper
So you see a problem. This problem bothers you immensely. You wish that you could do something to change and/or stop this problem. You are passionate about it and you talk to your friends and family all the time about this problem. One day a light bulb goes off and you realize you know exactly how to solve this problem. You write down this idea and it expands to a plan that you see you could, personally, implement. You begin to pull together the necessary resources, the people and the systems that you need to address this problem and you think you are ready to jump in. At this point or hopefully sooner, you should stop, take one more look and see if you can go deeper.
Are there any other people or organizations on this earth doing this work that you don’t know about it? Have they tried a similar method and learned there is a barrier to achieving a positive outcome? For many big (and even little) social problems there are individuals that have worked heavily to address the problems for years. Often, for would be social entrepreneurs, there is an assumption that their idea is unique or that the individuals who are using a traditional method to address the social problem lack innovation or the clarity of a new perspective. This could all be true.
It can also be that they have learned that funders will not cover the cost of your idea for the long term, so though it is the better way to address the social problem, there is no way to sustain it with the existing resources. They may also have learned that it did not provide a desired outcome for the individuals who accessed the services. It created unexpected complications or was never used.
Or maybe they have never thought of your idea, but their knowledge of the issue is worth acknowledging. Though, you may still feel that your way is better, understanding how they came to decide on using their method to address the problem will inform your work. Innovation and new perspectives are always needed but they should be based in as much proven knowledge as possible.
You should also dig deeper to see if there is another root cause (or causes) for this issue. What you see as the problem may only be the tip of the iceberg and your approach may prove to be a fruitless effort in the end. It is important to really talk to a variety of individuals and organizations, including those on the other side of the world if it is an international or global problem, to see if there is a part of this social problem that you are unaware of. If, as stated before, funders won’t fund this strategy maybe rather than starting another organization to address it, what is really needed is someone to raise funds to support this strategy. The non-profit and social sector is often under-resourced. Creating competition for these limited resources may increase the social problems and decrease the effectiveness of strategies designed to address the issues. Take the time to learn all the players and parts of your problem intimately before jumping in. This is often serious work and ineffective strategies and ideas are not helpful to the larger goal of addressing social problems. In the end if you haven’t done enough digging deep, you may end up doing more harm than good.