By David Blanchard - PraxisLabs.org | April 27, 2011
I've spent the last year building Praxis, a mentorship-driven accelerator program for social innovators compelled by their faith to advance the common good. Over that time, I've had an incredible opportunity to speak with 150 social entrepreneurs, leaders of nonprofits, donors, social investors, and others. There is an incredible movement of emerging leaders out there, devoting their careers to addressing the most pressing social issues of our time.
Through these conversations, I've noted several recurring themes among highly successful social entrepreneurs.
They work in community.
About 75% of the social entrepreneurs I've spoken with say they feel isolated and alone in their world, especially as their work can often be misunderstood. Over time, this undesirable isolation can become overwhelming and lead to personal and professional failure. The most successful social entrepreneurs I've met have broken out of that all-too-common leadership silo, seeking out a community of peer support that can help them ride the entrepreneurial rollercoaster.
They seek mentorship.
No matter how innovative that new idea is, there are common pitfalls to avoid and best practices to embrace that apply to almost any social enterprise. Leading social entrepreneurs learn from others who have gone before them, getting specific advice on how their situation fits into the broader stream of what's already known. These leaders are not only extremely teachable, but they pursue mentors who are "out of their league," putting a lot of effort into engaging experts whom they know will truly move the needle of impact on their organization. One leader I know flies twice a year across the country just to meet with a great mentor of his for two hours.
They engage directly and frequently with those they are trying to help.
As a resource-starved entrepreneur, there's a lot to say for efficiency of both time and money. But we simply cannot design solutions for people we do not know deeply, in contexts we have not personally experienced. The people I know developing the most scalable, effective solutions are spending significant time in the field, living in the conditions for which they create. Being there not only helps us grasp the impact we're working towards but also helps us to feel the depth of the need, allowing God to work in our hearts in ways that reports and third-party accounts just can't do.
They are results oriented.
"We need to stop feeling good, and start doing good." That's what I heard recently from Joel Montgomery, the Director of International Expansion for Endeavor. Whether as entrepreneur, donor, or social investor, we have a clear responsibility to ensure that the resources we commit to work are actually making the difference we intend. It's much, much easier to not put our work under the microscope, but it's not only the right thing to do - it's soon going to be expected in the social impact world. The organizations who are pushing the edge in this area, like One Acre Fund, are not only emboldened by seeing the value of their work, they are receiving considerably more recurring funding support.
They think long-term.
There's no question we need to address the problems that are right here, right now. However, if we truly want to address the most significant social challenges at their roots, we must build solutions that are not only scalable, but also financially sustainable. Many social entrepreneurs are using market-based approaches within non-profits or for-profit to ensure that after donors provide startup capital, operations are replicable and support themselves over the long haul.
If you're an aspiring social entrepreneur, these are a few keys ways where you can be intentional about creating a thriving organization. In light of these learnings, we've designed Praxis to help facilitate these paths to success. Our accelerator program focuses on helping leaders develop high-impact, scalable organizations through a user and context-centered design approach, while providing a peer and mentoring community that supports them throughout their work.
If you're a social entrepreneur or you know one who could benefit from this support, visit our website at www.praxislabs.org. Applications for our first fellowship program are open now and close July 15.