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Valerie Berset-Price Headshot

Searching For A Happy Medium

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For most entrepreneurs business is all about ebb and flow. As I look back and consider my consulting clients for the past six months, I realize that among the companies that seek out my expertise, social entrepreneurs are becoming more and more numerous. The differences between my corporate and my social entrepreneur clients are large and refreshing. Indeed, social entrepreneurs tend to instinctively know and apply what is so difficult for my corporate clients to assimilate.

Social entrepreneurs are normally young people who aren't bogged down by rules and business acumen. They operate from the heart and follow their intuition. They're passionate about what they do. Most of them have spent several years in the country that interests them either as backpack travelers, Peace Corps volunteers, or missionaries. Most of them speak the language of the region that interests them and have a network of people they can rely on in-country to start their venture.

What is refreshing is that they're not afraid of their market; in fact, they're in love with it. Their biggest problem lies in the fact that they have no business background and that their passion often obscures their vision with regard to timing, funding, managing finances, and making a profit.

Their youth, as well as the pathetic state of our world economy, is making them believe that profit is at the root of all evil and that learning business management is the slippery slope that will transform them into greedy and despicable people.

So let's make things clear: there is nothing wrong with profit. Profit is what happens when a business is well-managed. Profit is the equivalent of earning a salary and benefits if a corporation employed the entrepreneurs instead. Profit is the reason that should motivate all entrepreneurs to get out of bed in the morning. Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street) is not who he is because of the profit he generates but because of his greed and the methods he uses to accumulate wealth.

And while on the subject, I would like corporations to know that to succeed in the international arena, passionate, invested employees who are not afraid of their market, who understand the cultural subtleties, and who speak the language are a must as well.

Stop looking for people who know numbers and nothing else to lead your international operations. Start looking for people who are not afraid of spending three years in a mosquito-infested village in a remote area of the world, learning from the locals and getting energized by a culture that is so different from their own. Start relying on the passion of those former backpackers and volunteers; trust their instincts. They have learned more about the world through their trips than you ever will by reading the Economist from cover to cover every week.

People the world over respond to kindness and genuine interest. Those young, passionate people who respect and understand the culture your corporation wishes to penetrate are the ticket to those markets. Let them lead the way and don't try to change the way they interact with your potential clients.

As to the social entrepreneurs out there, learning accounting will not transform you into a frog. Learning how to put together a business plan, setting up an efficient supply chain, conducting market research, putting in place rules and regulations for your employees, and setting goals for your enterprise will empower you. It will take your company to the next level and allow you to generate higher profit.

What you do with that profit is up to you. You can turn around and give 100% back to the community of your choice if you wish, but putting in place a true business structure will ensure that you will have a long-lasting impact in the world instead of being a disappointing flash in the pan.

The objective as I see it is to learn from one another and to work together. Tap into each other's strengths. Your skills and interest complement each other's business model and represent the future of our global community.