In anticipation of the upcoming Social Enterprise World Forum October 2 to 4 in Calgary, Alberta, SEE Change spoke with speaker Ron Schultz, founder and executive director of the microfinance/micro-enterprise lending program, Entrepreneurs4Change, providing entrepreneurial education and neighbor-to-neighbor lending programs for social businesses, veterans, and marginalized communities.
Schultz chats with us about his latest project, Creating Good Work. His 23rd book is a bible of sorts for social entrepreneurs, bringing together experts in the field of social entrepreneurship who share their experience, knowledge and wisdom in their quest to build a healthy economy. He shares with us what inspired this project, what he learned about social entrepreneurs and how real change is best achieved.
What was your motivation behind this book?
I recognized that the reason to put the book out was not so much for the typical reasons, but as a way of supporting all these organizations, to help get the word out as to what they’re trying to do. I refer to it as my “Tom Sawyer Book” – I got other people to help me paint the fence. One of the reasons this collection works is there was a real strong structure to it, based on the whole notion of theory, application and practice.
The book lays out in the first six or seven chapters the theory behind the ideas around which social entrepreneurship is based. And then the final chapters are the application, the practice, how you take the ideas and turn them into something and then how you sustain that. Each of the contributors used that same model. So you really get a look at how they get the work done. This is not a hero story. It’s a really practical book on how you get it done.
Sometimes with books of this kind, there’s a challenge of definition, ensuring everyone agrees on the definition of social entrepreneurship. Did you face that?
We have a very distinct, and I think good definition of social entrepreneurship: using free market principles to address pressing social issues. I think everyone in the book does that, even the ones who are more charity based. These people are amazing. The people who contributed to this book are not only folks who are building this industry and have done so through their great work, but they’ve recognized what it is to be a social entrepreneur. Having said all that, my perspective isthat, while social entrepreneurs may get things started, it takes collaboration to really pull these things off.
Which brings me to my next question. You mention how collaboration is best achieved when it’s focused on alignment not agreement. Can you explain?
I wish it [the notion] was mine but it’s not. It was something I learned along the way. Agreement is really opinion and ego-based, based on who is right. Alignment is based on what we share together , what we’re trying to accomplish together, a common goal. It’s much more collaborative.Author Ron Schultz
Now let’s talk change. You say it’s not always achieved despite social entrepreneurs’ best intentions. What would you say are the biggest challenges standing in the way of real change?
In order to make a change that is actually going to hold, you really have to change the system as a whole. I discuss something that my colleague Howard Sherman, (co-author of Open Boundaries) came up with, which is this notion of principals, models, rules and behaviours. The distinctions here are so important in terms of how change takes place.
We have a principle that we believe in that we think is totally inviolate. So we create models that get us as close to that principle as possible. And then we build rules to make sure the model is enacted, which also govern the behavior of how we put that into place. And, of course, as a model, it’s always inaccurate. It’s never the whole picture. So we’re always refining the model. And, when we do that, we usually forget we also have to change the rules. So when we get a new model, we’re often still governing it with old rules. And change doesn’t take place.
The same thing takes happens if we say we have to change the behaviors of our organization. We say we’re going to do a cultural change, but we don’t change the rules and or the model so nothing shifts.
In order to really bring about change, we have to recognize that this is a systemic process. To change the model, we have to change the rules and the behaviours. Otherwise change doesn’t stick. I think social entrepreneurs have this romantic notion of change but often fall short when it comes to actually doing all the work necessary to make sure change will stick.
There are two particularly interesting concepts I’d like to address from the book: “Deliberative Disruptive Design” and “Sustainable Model for Inconceivable Development”. Can you explain each and their importance to social entrepreneurship?
Deliberative disruptive design is what social entrepreneurs do, deliberately looking at the current design and then going ahead and disrupting it and finding a new approach. It was Craig Dunn’s (Associate Dean of Business, Western Washington University) idea.
Sustainable model for inconceivable development is from the world of complexity thinking. The whole notion of complexity is that when you and I interact, out of that interaction something greater than the sum of our parts emerges that is not wholly contained in either of us. If you start looking at how we interact as people, then each time something emerges, we see that as a shift in the way or understanding of how things work. Then if we apply that understanding, we start at a whole new place and the next interaction starts from that new place and out of that emerges something different.
The notion of sustainable model for inconceivable development is that when you get three or four levels down into this process, if you’ve really changed within each new level of understanding, then what emerges was absolutely inconceivable when you began. And it relates to a couple of things: Stuart Kauffman within the complexity world came up with the notion of the “adjacent possible” – we are always one step away from the adjacent possible and new possibilities are all surrounding us.
I took that notion and shifted it a little because I was in the business world. I called it the “adjacent opportunity” – the opportunity which is one step away from where you are right now. Within that, as you recognize the next adjacent opportunity and move toward it, from that place a whole new realm of adjacent opportunity emerges because you’re in a new place. And you continually do this, as you progress down the line. And things you could never have imagined previously start showing up. And you can shift things that were once un-shiftable.
This model is actually a very powerful tool [ed note: Schultz passed the idea onto Senator George Mitchell].
What would be your top piece of advice for social entrepreneurs?
One of the things that Bill Drayton and Ashoka has done is they’ve spawned all these changemakers in the world and that’s’ a very admirable undertaking. But if I would give advice, I would say let’s not just be changemakers, let’s be masters of change so that we really understand how that takes place. And don’t just think that by sheer will, because of my own ego, I can make things different.
It really requires an understanding for how change happens and being really willing to work with others, in order to bring that about. And to do so in a collaborative way, not in a way where I have to be right. Ego is really limiting. If you look at the nonprofit world, the role of ego is really unfortunate because there’s so many people doing the same thing. And, rather than working together and sharing resources and capacity, it all has to be their way or no one’s way. And we don’t get as much done as we could.
Ron Schultz will be taking part in The Future of Social Enterprise: Main Stage Authors Panel on October 4. For more info and to register: Social Enterprise World Forum