Monday, April 19, 2010

Social entrepreneurship as an antidote to cynicism

It's easy to become cynical as a graduate student. Our training teaches us to be critical of the policies and programs that are meant to address public and social issues. Even in a professional program, from which we are all expected to go out into the world and do something after two short years in academia, we spend a substantial amount of time delving into the weeds of theory, exposing the fallacies and sad ironies of the policy world and the social sector. This kind of critical thinking, though it is indispensible, can easily lead to cynical thinking, and thence to giving up: what's the point?
That's why I'm so glad that I'm taking a Social Entrepreneurship seminar in my last semester here at the Humphrey Institute. There are plenty of cynical perspectives on social entrepreneurship, and much controversy about what exactly the term means. But while our class acknowledges these fuzzy areas and critiques, they are not our main focus. Rather, we are charged with being entrepreneurs--with "undertaking" initiatives--and developing our own ventures. What better way to prepare to go out into the world after graduation?
My own group is puzzling through a strategy for making the compelling community development credit union sector relevant on a broader scale. My other classmates are working to start a school, to provide job training, to increase international connections among youth, to inspire people with stories. Some of our ideas won't make it out of the classroom and into the light of day; others, though, will. And we are all catching a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit along the way.
Whether we pursue our own new, independent ventures or not, we can all look for missed opportunities, work to change systems, and be more flexible in thinking about what nonprofit and for-profit organizations are meant to do as we go about our daily lives and work. What I'm taking from this class is that neither critical thinking nor the occasional excursion into cynicism are excuses for failing to take up a challenge--for failing to be an entrepreneur.
Posted April 19, 2010 2:13 PM