Social ventures are labors of love – but they need financial support, too.
By Ron Schultz
From Time Magazine to the Harvard Business Review, during this last month alone, there have been features rightfully proclaiming the virtues of mindfulness. Browse through a bookstore and the shelves are filled with tomes on personal development and wellbeing. Turn on a TV and one expert or another is advocating steps or products directed toward living a healthier existence.
This phenomena could be based on the fact that the Baby Boomers are aging and, as they creep closer toward death, living healthier lives becomes a far more critical component of their daily process. Or it could be that we have finally recognized that well-being is really something to which we all have a right.
When put in terms of building a healthy economy, it is about more than financial health. It’s about seeing to the well-being of every individual participating in the economy, as well as those being excluded from it.
Greg Voisen's Personal Growth Podcast
When Greg Voisen launched the Inside Personal Growth podcast seven years ago (www.insidepersonalgrowth.com and insidepersonalgrowth.tumblr.com), he thought he had found a way to put people in touch with books, authors and wisdom, focused on his audience’s well-being. After interviewing 450 personal growth authors and producing an equal number of podcasts during the intervening years, he never thought that he would amass a library of such profound understanding and knowledge. And that, to this day, it could be accessed for free by anyone who might be interested.
Greg knew he was doing the right thing for all the right reasons. But unlike his television counterparts – Oprah, Dr. Oz, Ellen or even Dr. Phil – who have made themselves rich and famous from their personal well-being interviews, Greg has never wavered in delivering his quality product without charge.
Some might say that is the cost for doing the right thing for the right reasons. Actually, I think it’s unconscionable that those who benefit from this remarkable podcast website, and others like Greg’s, believe it should be offered for free.
But how does a social venture find its audience and its funding? And how do we value wisdom that speaks directly to our health when it doesn’t show up in a pill or a lotion? And why do we think that that which can transform us is not worth at least the same as our daily latte?
Creating good work and then finding a way to support those efforts is often easier said than done. In many cases, mission trumps business sense, and work is continued because it is the right or needed thing to do.
Making that choice between what one believes needs to be done and one’s own life and the impact that decision has on others is not as simple. Loving partners often assume a financial role they never intended to play. Monthly juggling acts take place to make sure bills are paid and obligations are seen to even when the stress of such gyrations would seem to most to outweigh the benefit. And thanks to call screening, 800 phone numbers are never answered.
Funders like to look at longevity and impact. Investors seek return on investment. Socially responsible investors are looking for all of it. And for the most part, they want to see that played out in IRS forms and bank statements.
Hard But Necessary Questions
The struggle between value and worth is one we have not been able to properly assess let alone bridge. Often, those providing the product or service continue because they have received enough feedback to recognize that their efforts are not folly. But the question every good project, hanging around in hopes of gaining traction, must eventually ask is one that looms in the shadows, smugly smirking – is the labor worth the return? And then the next question: am I holding on because of ego or because I can’t let go?
There are few questions more difficult and painful to face for a social entrepreneur than these. Although, I’m not sure it’s much easier for any entrepreneurial endeavor. We so want to believe in what we do, and we want others to believe with us.
But reaching that audience amid all the entertainment and distraction available requires something more. And patiently waiting for a project to ripen and attract a greater audience can feel Sisyphusian. There’s a saying, “eventually the truly talented are recognized, or the truly talented die out.” One way or another, an opportunity opens up.
In Greg Voisen’s world, 3000 people are benefiting from his podcasts every month. Publishers and authors are doing so, likewise. And he has grown a unique interview library filled with the advice, insight, perception and acumen of folks who have made it work. If it were just a promotional venue, it invariably could have been shut down and no one would suffer from the closing.
Repurposing Social Ventures
When worth is the value-add, the picture tends to get clouded. But I think there is an answer and it comes in repurposing. Our original designs are not always correct. And at the end of the day, we may find that what we thought we were designing and what actually turned out are two very different products.
If we are truly in entrepreneurial mode, and we aren’t ready to say die, we deconstruct and repurpose. It’s not starting over, it’s starting fresh. A return to the blank canvas. Re-engineering, which emerged in the 1990s was about clearing the slate and figuring out new ways to produce our businesses.
For social engineers and innovators, the choice is the same. If you aren’t reaching the audience you want, retool, rework, repurpose. The question then becomes, how interested are you in reaching your audience? If there’s a pony hidden within your work, it might require taking everything apart, without bias or history, or past reference. Here are the pieces, and what can be added or subtracted to build Iteration 2.0 that will deliver even more benefit.
When to Let Go
Giving up are two words entrepreneurs cannot abide. Saying them aloud is something akin to uttering Valdermort at Hogswort. But giving up can also mean releasing so that something new can form. Andrew Holachek teaches, “breathe out, relax, give up.”
Struggling entrepreneurs of all stripes should contemplate what that means. What does it feel like to give up? And if one can do so, the next question is how would the world reform within that space if I did?
Becoming an entrepreneur requires courage, remaining one often demands our being willing to re-up that courage. “Breathe out, relax, give up.” Then what?