To create long-lasting societal change through entrepreneurship, you need to think about the ecosystem in which that change occurs.
Social Entrepreneurs: Farmers of positive change
Social entrepreneurs want to change something for the better. Wether it’s helping freelancers get a stable income and a work/life balance (Gigloft) or re-aligning incentives so people who heal the environment get compensated (Regen Network), all social enterprises are rooted in creating change. Think about this desired change as a unique species of crop that social entrepreneurs cultivate — the bigger their plants, the better.
Most social entrepreneurs focus on what’s in front of them. Families fed, people educated, dogs saved, whatever metric they’re using to measure their change. They’re just like farmers who focus on the growth of plants. Improvement gets measured by the size of their specific crop.
However, farmers like John Kempf are starting to realize that true quality of a crop comes from the health of an ecosystem. And the health of an ecosystem largely depends on the health of its soil.
Use an ecosystems approach to societal change.
Similar to the affect of soil health on a crop, the success of a large-scale change you’re trying to make depends on the context around it. Let’s take an example:
Change: I want to increase consumption of local food in underprivileged communities.
Here’s a glimpse of the ecosystem factors I have to be aware of to follow through on this:
- Cultural food preferences.
- Current food delivery infrastructure.
- Local food grower capacity.
- Food prices and farm->table economics.
That’s a lot. Where would I even start? With an ecosystems approach, you start by researching who is making change in those areas.
Then, you can reach out and look for ways to grow together and drive the movement forward.
Chances are, the people you want to work with will share your purpose. They will want to grow together in a way that benefits the ecosystem.
Once you have this tight group of committed change agents, it’s much easier to grow momentum. Once you’ve made the change you want in your regional area, you can dig into the model you used, the collaborators you worked with, and the resources it took. By leveraging the ecosystem, it becomes possible to create a detailed and potentially replicable process around societal change in a certain area. This process is the logistical model for you to replicate this change on a large scale. The people you’ve executed the process with are the beginnings of a growing tribe that can execute the process.
Let’s look at some examples of change agents executing their processes real-time with an ecosystems approach:
Change agents stimulating growth in their ecosystem
GigLoft is a new school for aspiring freelancers. They have a 3 month curriculum where people trying to jump into freelancing develop their mindset, setup their business, and learn how to market themselves.
GigLoft’s change: make freelance more predictable & more collaborative.
How they’re using an ecosystem model to make change:
✅ GigLoft has a blog that creates content on why being a freelancer is awesome, and how to start your career. They also film workshops conducted with mentors around specific topics and post them on Youtube. This gives a nice soil layer of knowledge for freelancers to apply and make their lives more predictable & more collaborative.
✅ GigLoft works closely with Catch and KeeperTax, two awesome financial tools for freelancers. They currently offer these services for free to students. Who knows how these relationships could help them make freelance more predictable & more collaborative in the long run?
✅ When a student shows interest or joins GigLoft, they get invited to a freelancer community. Everyone shares knowledge, referrals, and has each others back. They’re creating their own ecosystem in which freelancers thrive.
This company hits at the essence the soil/ecosystems approach. They’re creating a blockchain-based platform that makes it easier to both fund ecological regeneration and get rewarded by taking a part in it.
Regen Network’s Change: Re-aligning the economics of Agriculture
How they’re using an ecosystem model to make change:
✅✅✅ Regen Network is making a whole platform for people to track and reward ecological regeneration. When looked at in this metaphor, they’re creating a base level of soil for other plants, creating conditions in which other regenerators can thrive.
I think it’s pretty epic that a company looking to regenerate ecosystems has the ecosystems approach built into their solution.
To make this platform happen, Regen Network must deeply connect the current ecosystem funders, farmers, foresters, and climate activists to enable a financial structure. That’s a whole lot of green check marks that couldn’t be included in this post.
Mangwende Permaculture Center
Evans Mangwende, a village leader in Mzembe, Zimbabwe, wanted to establish a local consistent, local source of food for his village. So he decided to build a permaculture-inspired farm that regenerates the land.
However, he didn’t stop by just growing his plants. He also put into motion the construction of a permaculture institute where people from all around the country could come to learn how to set up their own farms.
Evan’s Change: Set up growing systems that can feed his village and educate others to do the same.
Want to help make this change happen? Check out the gofundme.
How he’s using an ecosystem model to make change:
✅Evans is building institutions that empower other people to develop local farms in their respective places.
He didn’t just plant his change. He created soil where other plants could sprout.
Steps towards creating a thriving change ecosystem
At this point, you might be asking:
How do I contribute to my change ecosystem?
How do I plant soil for other seeds to sprout?
Here are some actions that will take you in the right direction:
- Increase connectedness of the social network within your change ecosystem. Reach out to change agents who have the same goals as you. Ask what is going well and what they need help with. Connect them with other people who could help them.
- Share knowledge about your experiences growing your movement. Share with your community/ecosystem how you succeeded and failed, and where there’s more opportunity.
- Market your change ecosystem by creating content that raises awareness where there previously was none. Use social media, blogs, and word of mouth to get people caring about the thing you want to change.
- Re-align incentives. Look for opportunities to re-align financial incentives with the most important actions in your change ecosystem. This is what Regen Network is doing — they’re providing a system that tracks ecological change and distributes financial rewards accurately. Think about the most important metrics of change in your area and if they’re being rewarded financially. Note: you’ll want to have a large community and/or source of capital for this one 💸
Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments!
Change is Collective
I was inspired to write this post because I realized that if you want to permanently change behavior, policies, products, or anything else, you need to cultivate the soil in which those things grow. There are many intricacies to social change and if these intricacies are ignored, the change won’t stick or it will mutate to something unforeseen. However, here’s what’s nice about this:
No matter what change you’re trying to make, you’re not alone.
This is the one thing I wish for you to take away from this post. There are people who want to help you, people who are waiting for you to reach out to them. I urge you to reach out. Make the connection. I bet you’ll see change happen right before your eyes 😉
Are you a social entrepreneur that wants to make an impact? Let’s work together. Send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org describing what you do; then we can start increasing your impact through design.