by Groundswell Social Ventures cohort member, Jeremie Yared
I’ve always believed that you can’t help others until you’ve taken care of yourself first. I didn’t realize, however, that this concept would shape my understanding of social entrepreneurship in these early stages of my journey through Groundswell’s social venture incubator program.
As I live it today, social entrepreneurship starts with a quest to solve my very own problems, one after the other, systematically and relentlessly. Once I find a personal solution to something I have been struggling with, I simply ask myself:
Do I think many people experience the same problem as I did?
Would my solution be easily applicable to anyone else?
At scale, could it truly contribute to the common good?
Would I enjoy delivering this solution to a broad audience? Am I the right person to do it?
If the answer to one of these questions is no, I move on, happy to have at least made my own life a little easier, and looking forward to keep doing just that from an even stronger place. But if I answer all with the affirmative, I can go ahead and confirm my assumptions out in the world before starting to hack away at a global solution.
This approach is helping me appreciate the fact that I cultivate a wide range of interests, instead of beating myself up for being fickle. It also alleviates a lot of the pressure I could feel, letting inspiration come more freely and keeping the mind supple throughout the ideation phase.
So far, there is at least one problem that I have solved for myself, only to decide afterwards that I shouldn’t pursue the idea any further. I first wanted to help bring about a more sustainable food system for the planet and the people. But the more I looked into it, the more lost I felt. I soon realized that I was truly ill-equipped to make it my business to transform the food industry as we know it. Without any previous knowledge of farming or of the food industry as a whole, I would have been swimming against the current, likely to exhaust myself before getting anywhere.
Through my research, I did, however, find creative ways to keep buying organic for my family without completely breaking the bank. So after barely dipping my toes in, I understood the best role for me in that space was that of an active, responsible consumer rather than that of an innovator. I took what I learned with me, and calmly carried on.
My longing for a sense of community then pushed me to do something I had meant to do for a while. I scribbled a note for all of the seven other tenants in my building, inviting them over for some drinks and snacks. The response was great. Every one of my neighbours showed up and expressed warm feelings of gratitude for the initiative, and all joined an online group to facilitate communication. We won’t necessarily become best friends. We probably won’t even repeat this more than once or twice a year. But it’s nice to build any kind of relation with people who live so close to us, and already the dynamic has shifted slightly within the building.
And I actually got way more than I was looking for! I discovered that on my floor, just eight metres away, lives a 14-year-old who just completed a course to be a babysitter. And another neighbour recommended an affordable and reliable cleaning service we could use. Because the idea of having to find and vet a babysitter or a cleaning service seemed more daunting to me than just accepting to live without them, I had gone with the second option. But now that I know my neighbours, it seems I don’t have to compromise anymore!
All this to say that I think budding social entrepreneurs should remember it’s okay to change their mind, no matter how dramatically. Often times, our passions and ideals might not be in sync with our skill sets, or what the world needs now. But we have to try! The key is to always stay centered, and keep working to help ourselves until we start feeling that others might indeed want and need the same kind of help.
When I invited my neighbours over, I knew I was doing myself a favour, but I could not imagine it would work so well. To me, that is an indication I should keep playing with the idea of hyperlocal neighbourly connections, and see where it leads. Even if it’s a dead end, I will still have my newly acquired network of neighbours with me, and I will be standing on even stronger ground to explore the next opportunity.