I’m going to be entirely honest: I’m only a part-time social entrepreneur. Social entrepreneur has been my working title for the past few years, but just two weeks ago–I’ve decided this term does not fully describe what I do.
Sitting on the floor in her two-room hut, we shared a pot of coffee. We’d spent the two previous hours collecting fire wood on the Guatemalan hillside, tying it into bundles, then hoisting it onto our backs and carrying it up and down winding, steep hills back to the community. The steaming pot of coffee—the contents of which was far past its sugar saturation point—was not exactly what I had in mind to quench my thirst, but I accepted it graciously nonetheless. The old woman before me then began to tell me the story of those hills, how the Fair Trade Organic certified coffee plants that covered them had not always been there. Less than ten years ago, the hillsides were covered with thick jungle brush—the same brush that had offered cover to her and the fifteen-man squad she led as part of the guerrilla movement in Guatemala’s thirty-six year internal armed conflict—the brush that let them survive.
At that moment, listening to her story, I thought I wanted to be an advocate—the one who would witness, conduct interviews, sift through testimonials and make sense of the various histories tied to a place, and then advocate for the community. Yet with each storytelling project I took on, I found myself on the forefront of designing a new project to be implemented: I went to Guatemala to research the rise of Mayan cultural activism following its internal armed conflict and left having helped redesign the community’s ecotourism project to one that would be more sustainable and lucrative. Not wanting to dash my dreams of being a human rights advocate, I denied to myself that everywhere I went, I became more participant than witness.
The fact is, I have been working in the social enterprise sector long before I had a term for it. When I finally managed to acknowledge the apparent gap between the title human rights advocate and the role I inevitably ended up playing—namely, intervening and participating in the design of development-based projects wherever I went—I realized that I was a social entrepreneur. For the first time, I felt like I had a name for what I was doing—the critical analysis and design-based thinking, the sustainability and scalability that guided my projects, and the creative, collaborative, entrepreneurial mindset that yielded solutions where international development didn’t.
Then two weeks ago, that changed again. For the past year, I’ve slowly begun to realize that much of my work doesn’t truly fit into generally accepted definitions of social entrepreneurship because I wasn’t creating new enterprises. I was contributing to the sector, but more often by accelerating or expanding the impact of existing social enterprises. When a friend pointed out to me that a lot of what I was doing was in fact social intrapreneurship, it clicked.
I am now in an ideal position to continue my work as a social intrapreneur. One month ago I relocated to Bombay, India. I’ll be spending the next nine months working with UnLtd India, an incubator for social entrepreneurs, as part of the IDEX Fellowship in Social Enterprise. I’ll be working with early-stage social entrepreneurs, providing them with the necessary support to help them launch and accelerate their ideas. Today, I elbowed my way into a twice-over-capacity train, evaluated social impact models with a recently launched social entrepreneur, and once again found myself battling the heat by sharing a scalding drink far past its sugar-saturation point.
I’m a part-time social entrepreneur, but a full-time changemaker. I’m passionate about intergenerational justice, collaboration and the creative process and most enjoys working at the ideation stage: designing ideas for a better future, connecting people and transforming ideas into impact. Whether my approach is entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial, my bottom line is to be high-impact, working for a world that lives at the intersection of empathy and action.