It is easy to understand why people have come to see entrepreneurship as a way to get rich quick. American culture adores the idea of the self-made hero, the lone wolf succeeding on the fringe of the establishment. With so many stories of startups turning into billion-dollar companies overnight, people have come to see entrepreneurism as a short cut to individual wealth.
The reality is a bit different.
Though there is nothing wrong with financial gain, true entrepreneurs embrace the values of creativity, risk, leadership and collaboration. Contrary to the popular myth of the entrepreneur as a cowboy with single-minded determination, most entrepreneurs are quick to acknowledge the necessity and excitement of collaboration. Having a strong conviction is not antithetical to collaboration -- on the contrary, it is essential to hone ideas -- but the best social entrepreneurs put together powerful teams and partnerships.
I discovered the power of collaboration in Rwanda in 2006. By working together, businesses and non-profits were able to bring immediate assistance to those in need. ONEXONE -- a non-profit I founded to improve the lives of children everywhere -- was exactly the kind of collaborative platform that was poised to aid the victims of the Haiti earthquake. ONEXONE managed to collaborate with airlines, NGOs, even a tire manufacturer, to deliver supplies before the landing of the US Marines in Haiti.
For many reasons, unfortunately, the crisis-oriented momentum could not be maintained over the long term. Nonetheless, I felt inspired by what had been accomplished, even for a short time. It was the right moment to realize the idea that had come to me on the first trip to Africa in 2006. An idea of a business model that could transform the economic and social fabric of emerging economies like those in Haiti. Having worked in the fashion industry my entire career, I formed partnerships in order to build a profitable factory (Industrial Revolution II) that would reinvest 50 percent of its profits back into the local community.
Social entrepreneurs often find it is much easier to inspire collaboration than it is to structure it. A factory, for example, needs to be supplied and serviced by a multitude of skilled workers and other businesses throughout the local community. No business, factory or otherwise, stands alone, so the social entrepreneur naturally involves herself in the wider community. Helping to train small businesses -- even those not directly related to your business -- will serve a common need. Providing the right kind of information, combined with specific guidance from specialists or certification professionals, help individuals and small businesses in the community to thrive and succeed. I have experienced the spirit of collaboration many times throughout my 35-year career. Now more than ever I believe that nothing is more important than the people who become instrumental in the success of the businesses and the communities they support.
Helping to build an IRII factory in Haiti, I realized that the excitement of collaboration and collective focus many of us experienced following the Haiti earthquake could be reawakened in the form of a social enterprise movement. Many of us now believe that such a movement can change the economic landscape of struggling communities around the world. As I began to speak to others about the exciting collaborative opportunities in social entrepreneurship, I discovered an in-development platform called "Collaboration Quests," which is designed to allow social entrepreneurs to share ideas and form partnerships.Slowly, entrepreneurs, investors, consumers and workers are beginning to find each other, and I have been delighted to discover that many people share my hope and enthusiasm. Nothing stabilizes a startup more than being part of an emergent, interdependent community. True to this barometer, everywhere I've gone, Haiti and elsewhere, social entrepreneurs express a great thirst for innovative collaboration. We all have different ideas, but we all have a common vision that the only true wealth is shared wealth.