4 Takeaways for Social Entrepreneurs
Experts from Austin’s social enterprise scene share strategies for succeeding in the field.
What is a social entrepreneur?
During a trip to Argentina in 2011, Zoe Schlag tapped the question into her iPhone. The local entrepreneur she was collaborating with mentioned that he had recently won an award as one of Argentina’s leading social entrepreneurs. Schlag nodded, feigning understanding, but searched the term later that night.
Schlag now leads UnLTD USA, which backs promising entrepreneurs who tackle social and environmental issues. In December, she joined key players from Austin’s social enterprise landscape for the inaugural Speaker Series event, hosted by The Bill Munday School of Business, at St. Edward’s University. “Instead of using Google, you guys get to hear from experts in the field,” Schlag says.
Here are four insights the panelists shared.
Start where your passion is, and keep your focus on always learning, Scott Collier, global growth and business development for Whole Foods, recommends. Although he started as an engineer, Collier went back to business school because he was inspired by the passion that social entrepreneurs had to solve a problem that’s personal to them. “Social entrepreneurship is, at the end of the day, just entrepreneurship,” he says. “We’re working in personal endeavors that feed society, and by feeding society, we feed ourselves.”
“Figure out how to articulate, in words, the world that you want to create,” Dana Harmon, executive director for Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute, says. With 13 years of leadership and management experience in the energy and consumer products industries, Harmon arrived at a point in her career where she felt her passion and drive were lacking. In 2016, she decided to redefine her career and personal goals and found a meaningful opportunity — leading the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute. Six months into the role, she stays focused on her vision with weekly self-check breaks, away from the office, where she takes a second to breathe, collect her thoughts and ensure that her actions are in line with her vision.
Surround yourself with the right people, recommends Magatte Wade, founder and CEO for Tiossan. They will help remind you of why you are doing what you’re doing. Wade founded her first company, Adina World Beat Beverages, when she noticed a key element in the Senegalese culture — the hibiscus beverage, or bissap — disappearing. Thousands of women who grew the hibiscus were losing their livelihood and moving to the city. She decided to turn her distress into something positive and create a brand she could be proud of. The 400 women she employed in the company helped her recover from her husband’s death and pushed her to see her purpose. Now as the CEO of Tiossan, Wade continues to ensure that her employees share her vision.
As a social entrepreneur, you have to adjust constantly, Collier says. By balancing focus with curiosity and staying open to change, you can find even greater opportunity for a social enterprise. “View what’s happening to you from a viewpoint of abundance,” he says. “If it’s happening to you, it’s supposed to be happening to you. So learn from it — instead of resisting it and trying to make that outcome happen.”
The Bill Munday School of Business will host one Speaker Series event each fall and spring, focusing on key pillars in Austin’s business ecosystem. Learn more about future events, open to students, faculty, alumni and the community.
Katie Finney is the outreach coordinator for The Bill Munday School of Business.