2 Questions Social Entrepreneurs Always Ask

Since I started working with Shake Your Power, many people have approached me asking me how we do it, how did we get started and how they wish they could find a way to do something good with the skills they have.

Many of these people are tired of working in an uninspiring job, feeling like they are constantly working to make someone else’s agenda successful. People want to have meaningful jobs where they feel they can make a positive impact in the world. Unfortunately many jobs today are focused on doing things how they have always been done and leave very little room for people who want to innovate and do things better.

The security that jobs once had is no longer there and people are looking for other ways to create the freedom and meaning they crave in their lives. Some of us are lucky and our jobs are the things we love to do so we find meaning and purpose every day in our work. But it seems, unfortunately, that this is a small number of cases.

We all want to be happy. This is the ultimate reason why we do what we do. Why we work and why we push ourselves to learn new things and expand our boundaries. But it turns out that helping others is also an effective way to get happy. Mark Snyder, from the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota explains “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness.” He goes on to say that “all of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity.”

We could say that we are hard-wired to do social good and the more we do it, the happier and healthier we get and the more meaningful lives we have. In fact, many people engage in social good activities and volunteering as a way to relieve the stress they build up in through their jobs, financial worries, etc.

Perhaps this is a way in which life rewards us when we do good deeds, it makes us feel better, makes us healthier and even makes our bodies release oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred as the happiness hormone as we release higher levels of it when we are hugging someone, when we have an orgasm, and even pregnant women release it whilst giving birth.

It seems then that doing social good is not only good for the people who benefit from our work but also for us. It’s instant karma.

But looking at the way the world is today, I find no other option but to commit myself to  helping others and having a positive impact on the world though my work. And this feeling seems to be mirrored by so many others that are creating new business models that challenge the old paradigms about how businesses should be run and instead are creating innovative ways to harness the power of the internet and new technologies to create social good-profitable businesses.

So there is a new sense of global responsibility and I’m happy to see that a lot of people are embracing it and doing good through their unique talents. We are realizing that we are all part of the global community and what happens in one side of the world has ripple effects on our side of the world. By taking responsibility to create a fairer world, and acting on it in even the smallest possible way, we are actively helping change the world.

However, it’s easier said than done. We all have a unique set of interest, passions, hobbies and skills and finding out how you can contribute it’s not always easy. Taking into account all the possible ways you can combine these to create a social good enterprise, it’s not surprising that many people simply can’t find one idea that they can commit to.

The first step is to find out what your passions, hobbies, skills and interest are. Take a piece of paper and create a column for each of these categories. Under each category, write down all the things that apply. For example for me it looks something like this:

Hobbies: long walks, running, reading non-fiction, learning electronics, baking, space and physics.

Passions: design for social empowerment, new sources of energy, empowering communities and individuals, innovation and design education, alternative economies and new ways of living, sustainable world building.

Skills: teaching, CAD, design for manufacturing, design process, research, public speaking, writing, connecting the dots, designing PowerPoints, prototyping things and making mock-ups, sketching and rendering.

Interests: nomadic lifestyles, education and tech, energy and sustainability, internet of things, electronics and coding, Buddhism and meditation.

The point of this exercise is to make you aware of what kind of enterprises you would be suited for, as you might have some of the skills required to launch your business idea or you are passionate about it.  But passion alone is not enough.

I have aligned my work to fit all of these quadrants. I design social good products that empower deprived communities and I teach people how to do what I do. It’s a seamless relationship between who I am at the core and what I do. This harmony is what makes me happy and feel fulfilled in my work.

So if you want to take control over what you do and want to start an enterprise, begin by doing this exercise. It will give you clarity and will spark some ideas for your new venture.

My personal reason to do things for social good is because I feel responsible to do work that creates change. I realized that the skills I developed as an industrial designer can be put to use to help people and I had the opportunity to do so through Shake Your Power. There, I design products that create clean energy for off grid communities in the world.  The first product I designed was Spark. This is a music shaker that as you play it you create electricity, and it can be used for light or mobile phone charging.

Spark shaker
Spark shaker

When you have access to the main grid, you really don’t think about not having electricity, you just take for granted that it’s there easily accessible through the socket in the wall. Your turn on the lights at night and they come on, you leave them on as long as you need to, rarely tracking how long they’ve been on. You read, cook, use your computer, talk on the phone, put the TV on, put the washing machine on, put the kettle on, turn the garden lights on, put the heating on, the AC…  So we never think about what it would be like to have no access to it, to be in complete darkness.

This is the reality for 1.5 billion people that only have access to wood, coal, dung or kerosene to have heating or light in their homes. And this in turn, results in air pollution that kills 1.6 million people a year.

And that was the reason why Shake Your Power, the green tech company I work with, was born. It aims to give access to clean energy for off grid communities, hopefully replacing some of the other harmful methods for off grid lighting.

But it has not been without its difficulties. The decision to create a social enterprise is a big one and it requires full commitment, as any new enterprise would.

So the first step in social entrepreneurship is this one: commitment. How committed are you and your team to making it work?

Whenever you are doing something new there are obstacles that inevitably come up, so you need to be prepared for them but also committed to do absolutely everything that has to be done to make it work. This might mean doing things you hate doing, putting yourself out of your comfort zone for unspecified periods of time, dealing with doubt and fear, working for long hours and often weekends, testing ideas and failing, changing your strategy and trying again.

The only thing that will keep you going through all of that is the answer to this:

Why are you doing it?

If you are doing it for fame and fortune, I wish you luck, but perhaps you should be a banker or a pop star, if you are doing it because you want to change the world and help people, then you might just make it.

So, answer these questions as honestly as you can:

  1. Why do I want to do it?
  2. What am I willing to sacrifice to make it work?

People have asked me before to explain how to get started in creating products for social good and how to create a start up to launch them, so I will do my best to take you through the process I know and have experienced first-hand. I will try to explain the pitfalls, the tips and tricks I have learned, and where my experience lacks I will recommend other experts’ insights and institutions you can access, ideally for free, so you can get started.

We are all creative and can come up with ideas that can potentially change the world, but creativity is like a muscle and it needs warming up, stretching and continuous work.

In the next articles I will got through the process in a somewhat ordered way so I suggest you try to read the articles in the order they appear. Where appropriate I will refer back to them to refresh some ideas.

I would appreciate your comments, ideas and perhaps challenges to some of the methods I will explain. Two heads work better than one, so feel free to expand on the subjects and offer alternative advice.

“The Best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”

Gandhi

Diana Simpson Hernandez

Designers for Humanity Founder

 

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