The Social Entrepreneur 2

Amy and Bear



I think it’s important to be grounded in the foundations underlying any paradigm. For me, Frederic Laloux’s work on paradigms of organisation, for example, provide greater clarity to understand and articulate the new paradigm of organisation that is emerging today. In my life as a chaplain, the foundational life of the ‘father’ of chaplaincy, St Martin-of-Tours, informs my adaptions to my context to hopefully create a chaplaincy that is relevant to today’s world. It also helps me see the negative aberrations of chaplaincy over time. ‘We walk into the future looking backwards’ seems to be an appropriate Indigenous proverb.

The tectonic plates of the western world are grinding against each other. We must adapt without losing the spirit of that which has contributed to human flourishing in the past. In the social arena, the challenges and opportunities for this adaption inspires the social entrepreneur.

We have always had entrepreneurs. Those who see opportunities and have the inner drive to take the risks to bring them to fruition. Watch ‘The Shark Tank’ to witness aspirants for innovation in the business sector.

Andrew Mawson and others in the UK, driven by the failure of systems intended to create real change among the disadvantaged, and motivated by their own passion for social justice, directed their entrepreneurial attention to the social sector in the mid-1980’s. The category descriptor ‘social entrepreneur’ was born some years later, after a journalist coined the term, inspired by Mawson’s work, to describe this movement.

Mawson’s book was published in 2008, giving insight into what his entrepreneurship had achieved over 20 years. Ten years later we are still struggling to appreciate the dynamic of his leap forward. Our government sectors continue to be paralysed in systems that cannot seem to deliver real change. The Church sector continues to shoot itself in the foot with factional in-fighting and abuse. And our welfare sectors continue to be influenced by that same spirit of control and domestication, strangled by dependency on grants, with all the constrictions of stop-start programming and conditional agendas.

I see a confluence of adaption since Mawson’s book.

There is movement by two groups of people disenchanted with modern organisation, typified by government and corporates, or, if you like, ‘institutions’. I think education, including travel and the availability of knowledge on the Internet, are contributing to this disenchantment.

The younger group of Gen X and Y seem to be saying, ‘I have a dream, and I can’t bring it to fruition while I am a cog in your (institutional) machine.’ They often hang in for the pay packet, because that’s all part of the institutionalised system of survival. But many are breaking out into ‘start-ups’ to follow their dream. Places like ‘WeWork’ and other ‘Hubs’ are providing the infrastructure for new ways of organisation and achievement.

The older group I call the ‘mid-life crisis’ group. They are people who have attained a certain stability and sense of financial security. They have a roof over their heads and their kids are relatively independent. Retirees, like me, are part of this group. They are saying, ‘There’s got to be more to life than just working to earn money to have a comfortable life.’ ‘I want to make a difference in the world – I can see it needs it!’ 

I hear both groups saying, almost to a person, wherever I have come across them, in Australia or through my travels, ‘I want to make a difference in the world’.

But then my father would have said this. He was a woodworker – carpenter and cabinet maker – in the Railways. He got great satisfaction, contributing to the world, through his work. But what frustrated him more than anything else, was the disconnect with the ‘people in the office upstairs’ who came up with their plans and imposed them without understanding their consequences. They  saw themselves above the workers (and hence the glass offices were upstairs!) Apparently they were the educated ones who were entitled to create their dreams, but the workers were considered incapable of contributing, save following their plans.

Social entrepreneurship happens when people break out of the credentialed entitlement system.

I see a movement today, occurring beyond Mawson’s 2008 book.

Mawson focussed his attention on creating a (tangible) neighbourhood hub. It was a centre where the spirit of his vision for social justice could be enacted beyond the dead hand of government. It was also a centre that reached out into the local community, and a model others might be inspired to adopt. 

WeWork centres are fulfilling a similar role for the new breed of innovative workers. Mawson’s model and the WeWork model influenced me in the adaptions we made at Flinders University to transform a Religious Centre into Oasis, while fulfilling its original mandate to be a ‘place for all, to support the religious and spiritual life of the university.’

But the Internet is beginning to also enable social initiatives that are not dependent on a tangible space. The Good Karma Networks springing up around Australia are a good example. The leap forward Amy Churchouse is making is the provision of an easily accessible Internet-based framework as a channel for people in a local neighbourhood to help each other – ‘ to connect and solve problems together to have better lives’. Intuitively, Amy has called this generic movement the Good Karma Effect. That is, the goal is actually the effect on neighbourhoods whose individuals sign on to helping each other through the framework she has set up, initiated intuitively from her own experience of neighbourhood help to find her lost cat.

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