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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013


In The Power of Unreasonable People, John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan articulate what makes social entrepreneurs seem so unreasonable, including: a drive to transform dysfunctional systems; insane ambition; enormous emotion that fuels them; the ability to see the future, and create it; and incorporation of social benefit into the value equation. They quote Muhammad Yunus, “the future of the world lies in the hands of market-based social entrepreneurs.” Many of us who are working to help social entrepreneurs overcome barriers that appear insurmountable endorse this future.

It is evident, however, that social entrepreneurs often face challenges far beyond the complexities of launching a Silicon Valley venture. What drives social entrepreneurs to pursue these unreasonable endeavors, to imagine the impossible, and to make their dreams real? Viktor Frankl quotes Nietzsche in his landmark memoir Man’s Search For Meaning, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

“Why?” is thus a fundamental vocational discernment question for social entrepreneurs, and by extension, for impact investors and other stakeholders in the broader social enterprise ecosystem.

Santa Clara University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, fashions future leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion to create a more just, humane, and sustainable world. The Jesuit tradition in which Santa Clara’s educational paradigm is rooted emphasizes “men and women for others” and a “preferential option for the poor”; Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership articulates four unique values of Jesuits that form the core of what he calls “leadership substance”: self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroic ambition. These characteristics aptly describe many social entrepreneurs I know.

Indeed, every great spiritual and religious tradition is built upon a belief that there is a greater good, or a why, that transcends personal success, wealth, or power. While conceptions of God or gods vary in many dimensions, the universality of helping the poor and living righteously illuminates a core tenet of humanity. More and more, young people today are choosing careers with meaning; meaning is often influenced by individual spirituality. In fact, Time magazine reported in 2007 that Generation Y workers want to “spend their time in meaningful and useful ways.”

This year, meaning is one of the themes at SOCAP. The track will focus on “the intersection of money and meaning” in both spiritual and non-spiritual terms. We are convening a session entitled Impact Investing and Spiritual Belief:  Breaking the Persistent Cycle of Poverty. Panelists from different spiritual traditions will explore resonance between their faith and vocations in the broader social enterprise and impact investing ecosystem.

From the Desk of Thane Kreiner
Executive Director, Center for Science, Technology, and Society

Tags: 2013, Impact Capital, SOCAP, social entrepreneurs


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