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One beautiful lesson I’ve been able to articulate as I’ve grown as a social entrepreneur is that you “Love the In-Between.” If you do too, then you’ll make a fine social entrepreneur.


That’s actually the meaning behind the French word, “entrepreneur.” Technically, it means “between the taking,” meaning you are able to bridge the gap, take the jump, make it happen. It takes belief and spirit behind the physical, tangible evidence.


We certainly faced that early on with UniversalGiving™. Even while billions of people were starving abroad, one prominent foundation executive said, “The question is…is there even a market for international giving? Who would want to give to another country?”


That was in 2001 when the concept of international giving and volunteering was not as well championed. So you really need to stick with a good market idea before the marketplace accepts it. Can you see this future for your idea? Can you see the acce ptance building at a later point? Know why.


For me, I knew eventually that starving people could not be ignored. Yet we had to make it accessible to people. That meant people needed a personal, inspired and trusted way to give. If they had that option, then giving could blossom, and it did. If you can see this type of future, and how you can be a part of the solution to create it, then you’re on the right track.


Tackling challenges and building advantages


One of our greatest challenges, then, was instilling trust. From all my volunteer work all across the world, in microfinance in remote villages of India; crisis relief work in El Salvador; sustainable farming in Guatemala; digital divide training in Cambodia, I knew that connecting people with quality organizations with bonafide leaders was essential.


We started out with a modest Quality Model that had six simple steps ensuring the organization operated well. Through much perseverance, and over many years, we refined the model and now have a trademarked Quality Model based on 15 levels. So if you have a specialty, it’s important to keep refining it. Don’t stop persevering. Keep building your unique competitive advantage. I’d say that’s a challenge you can’t ever ignore.


What UniversalGiving™ does is connect people to vetted giving and volunteer opportunities all over the world. You just choose a country, such as Brazil, and an issue such as the environment, and it returns a list of ways to donate and volunteer your time. We don’t take a cut on the donation; 100% goes directly to the cause.


That was our next challenge: how do we fund this? Our belief is that the purest form of social entrepreneurship is where one has a business model. It’s been a part of our business planning from the beginning. So UniversalGiving Corporate (UGC) is a second, customized service, working with Fortune 500 companies on their global corporate social responsibility programs. Companies pay us for this service. UGC helps increase corporate employee giving and volunteer rates; strengthens their global brand; increases employee retention and attraction; and builds a stronger, more loyal client base for our corporate partners.


Paying the bills


Our goal, then, as social entrepreneurs is to provide the public UniversalGiving™ service for free to everyone – high school students, moms, Kenyan relief workers, young professionals, retirees, Brazilian government officials – anyone can give and volunteer for free. UniversalGiving Corporate is what pays the bills. But it also helps our corporate clients as corporate leaders, and helps our community.


Probably the biggest challenge we faced was what any company faces during a tough economic time. It’s simply harder to cultivate new business. But it’s actually a great time. A great time? Yes! During this time you can do a lot of research on who your best clients might be. Get to know them very well, and find out what their greatest needs are. Begin a dialogue with them. Find ways to serve them or provide them with information. In essence, be of value to them. If you are sincere in this endeavour, and desire to serve them as a long-term partner, it will translate into future business.


Deciding to persevere


I know what I’ve written seems like an easy, make-sense solution. But what is challenging is maintaining a commitment to integrity each day. It takes a lot of energy to commit to living and leading these values. And there are times when I have been challenged, times when I need to “reinspire.” I refresh my mind with all the good that is in my life. It might be the lovely sun, the fact that I can run, the wind, the joy of my parents, caring for my sister’s three kids, the fact that I love my work in corporate social responsibility and global poverty. Two billion people across the world don’t have a choice of what they do with their lives. They do not have choice in so many areas of their lives.


So step by step, I make it through…to the next step. And so you will, too, with the challenges you are facing. You will get there through gratitude and perseverance. You will make it. Commit to making it. If you took the last step, then you can take the next. And the next, and the next. The only reason you wouldn’t take that next step, is if you decide not to. Remember that it is a choice you have. Decide to persevere.


Pamela Hawley is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving™, an award-winning nonprofit that helps people give and volunteer with vetted, quality opportunities all over the world.

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