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THE SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR'S HANDBOOK
How to Start, Build, and Run a Business That Improves the World
By RUPERT SCOFIELD
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2011Rupert Scofield
All rights reserved.
IDENTIFYING YOUR CONSTITUENCY AND ARRANGING YOUR APPRENTICESHIP
The world abounds with noble causes, and there is one that is just right for you. If you're reading this book, you have taken the first step in that discovery process.
As a second step, identify your constituency, a group of people who are getting a raw deal. Most people have an innate sense of justice and are offended, even outraged, when they see people less fortunate than they being exploited or taken advantage of. But to really help them, you have to get to know them, walk in their shoes. You would be surprised at the number of organizations that espouse this or that noble cause in which the personnel seem only dimly acquainted with the facts on the ground. Many large, publicly funded development agencies are criticized, and rightly so, because they are populated by "experts" who have never known poverty themselves, nor immersed themselves in the world in which four billion people survive on less than four dollars per day. These agencies may be well meaning and full of brilliant people, but unless they close this "empathy gap" their work will forever be hobbled by a fundamental lack of understanding of what their constituents need and desire.
Groups like the Peace Corps (international) or AmeriCorps (U.S. based) are ideal for this purpose of experiencing, firsthand, the lives of your identified constituency. You live on the level of the people you are trying to help. You lose your fear of poor people. You learn to speak their language and communicate with them in terms they can understand. You identify with their problems.
Think that the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps is exclusively for newly minted college graduates? Think again. Five percent, or 350 of the 7,700 Peace Corps volunteers, are over the age of fifty. AmeriCorps has ten times as many volunteers and no upper age limit.
Just because you are accepted into the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps does not mean your mission will be gift wrapped and handed to you upon arrival. Some assignments are more appropriate for finding your mission than others. Try to get involved with a privately funded nongovernmental organization (NGO) rather than a government agency. The NGO will make much better use of you and your talents, while providing the possibility of offering you a "real" job when your voluntary assignment ends, if you've proven yourself useful. A government agency, on the other hand, may not know what to do with you.
Government jobs, especially in developing countries, are often the creations of political patronage. They pay poorly and often don't address real needs. Moreover, they tend to be at a loss as to what to do with another body, however willing and able. A great many Peace Corps volunteers end up teaching English, which is a real job, but not necessarily great for finding your mission. Still, your formal job description doesn't need to prevent you from finding something else useful to do in the community during your abundant spare time. You need to take matters into your own hands and not think the Peace Corps or even an international NGO will have a junior executive training program waiting for you. Read the swag box "From Zero to Hero" to see how I found my mission as a young Peace Corps volunteer in the highlands of Guatemala.
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From Zero to Hero
In my case, I had what sounded like a real job as a Peace Corps volunteer: credit officer for an agricultural cooperative in the highlands of Guatemala. The problem was, having been born and raised in Levittown, New York, I didn't bring a deep knowledge of agriculture to the table. Two months of technical training in growing corn and beans in Costa Rica rendered me more of a threat to the Mayan Indian farmers' crops; I was not the Second Coming of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. In retrospect, my Guatemalan counterpart, Edgar, could be forgiven for his reluctance to introduce me to the co-op members. He and I had weekly meetings at the co-op office in Chimaltenango, and at each meeting he would tell me to wait for him the following day so we could ride together out to the countryside to see the clients. But when the appointed time would arrive, no Edgar. This went on for two months, and I couldn't figure out why.
Then one morning I came out the door of my house to see him stealthily driving his jeep down the main street of my pueblo, headed out to the countryside. I kept watch on the street all afternoon. When I saw him returning, I planted myself in the middle of the calle and flagged him down. He sheepishly rolled down the window.
"Look, Edgar, if you don't want to work with me, that's fine. But I'm not going to sit on my ass for the next two years and do nothing. Introduce me to the co-op members, and I will figure out what to do for them."
"Come on, gringo. Let's have a drink."
That day, over much rotgut sugarcane alcohol, I broke the ice with Edgar, but it wasn't until another two months had passed that I found a way to make myself useful to the farmers. When I was learning Spanish in Mexico, our trainer made a big deal about something called confianza. It translated literally as "confidence," but really it means "trust." Until you earned the trust of the people you were trying to help, the trainer warned us, they would not admit you to their culture and whatever noble project you were trying to accomplish, however well intentioned, would come to grief. Unfortunately, our instructor was not too specific as to how one went about earning the confianza of the people. He gave us to understand it was a somewhat mysterious process, but we would know when we succeeded.
And when we failed.
I will never forget the day I achieved my "confianza moment." The co-op had promised to deliver credit in the form of fertilizer instead of cash, but the head of the program had screwed up and ordered it too late. The rains started, and the farmers were desperate to plant. Every day they came to my house asking, "Don Ruperto, dónde está el fertilizante"
The fertilizer finally arrived in the country, but then we had another problem. The dirt roads out to the aldeas (hamlets) where the Indians lived had been turned to mud by the heavy rains. The branch manager in Chimaltenango told me he could get the truckers to bring the fertilizer as far as my house in San Martín Jilotepeque, but no one was willing to go out to the aldeas. Week after week, the fertilizer piled higher and higher in my house, and the Indians sent their delegations, asking me when I was going to make good on my commitment to deliver it to their communities.
Finally, I took matters into my own hands. I went into Chimaltenango and found a trucker who, for ten centavos extra per bag, was willing to drive the final leg from my house to the aldeas. I paid him out of my own pocket from my meager $150 a month salary.
I still recall the looks of jubilation on the faces of the farmers when, covered with mud from head to toe after digging the truck out of one slippery morass after another, we finally rolled into their communities with our truckload of fertilizer.
For the first time in my life, I felt useful.
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Aside from volunteering through the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, you can also offer your services directly to an NGO. All foundations welcome volunteers as "force multipliers," a free resource, and this can be a great way to gain your "poverty experience." However, be forewarned: surprising as it may seem, not all nonprofit managers know how to use volunteers, and many actually avoid them, having learned that even free resources have a cost. Time is a precious commo
Excerpted from THE SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR'S HANDBOOK by RUPERT SCOFIELD. Copyright © 2011 by Rupert Scofield. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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