Falsely, neophyte social entrepreneurs often suppose that innovative social change starts with a great idea -- a brilliant insight. Maybe.
The missing social entrepreneurial skill, says Liberia's Chid Liberty, Founder/CEO of Liberty and Justice, is "really understanding the people we are trying to provide opportunities for."
"Find a very small organization and fully immerse yourself in the culture that you want to work with...be with them, talk with them, listen to them," advises Tiffany Persons, Founder/CEO of Shine on Sierra Leone.
Traditional business depends on sales data to "hear" its customers. Social businesses depend upon people-to-people listening and direct community engagement.
Ever watch with amazement and a bit of chilling expectancy as window washers make slow progress across a skyscraper façade?
The very first window cleaners stood precariously on narrow ledges grabbing the window frames with their fingers tips. Today, mechanized safety cages maneuver up and down tall buildings, making it safer to clean a window than drive a taxi 40 floors below. Progress aside, to properly clean that window still requires a simple squeegee and an old-fashioned bucket of water wielded by a human being.
Similarly, no matter how much infrastructure, scaffolding, connectivity or tech innovation social entrepreneurs put in place, it takes a person -- not a robot or a distant researcher -- to appreciate and hear a community. We are in the human development business.
"We need to have field experience, especially in economic justice work. We need to experience what economic injustice looks like," insists Vini Bhansali, CEO of the International Development Exchange (IDEX). Truth be told, community-based learning is an act of self-liberation.
Liberation from guesswork and grand schemes. Liberation from blinders and biases. Liberation to authentically give voice to the voiceless. Liberation to make a difference.
At the annual Opportunity Collaboration, a community of generosity and action forms when people trust each other (repeat: people -- not causes, not institutions, not ideologies, not reports). As in every important personal relationship, community transformation begins with good listenership -- a conversation. Empathetic human connectivity moves social and economic justice.
Even the rawest, least experienced global activist can launch a listening tour and thereby begin a potent social justice career. As Kenya's Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Founder/Director of Akili Dada, prods, "Don't wait for permission. No one is going to come along and say 'Here's Your Permission.'"