on .

7 March, 2014.

The director of PeopleTalk addressed the NUIG Literary and Debating Society last night on the subject of 'social entrepreneurship.' He is not happy with that term but it seems to be the best available. Here's a summary of what he said:

Social entrepreneurship is like a disease. You catch it. When you have it, you develop clearly recognisable symptoms. And then you can infect others. One thought-provoking example of social entrepreneurship occurred during a time of tyranny and shame when millions of people throughout Europe were being driven into death camps. People can only catch the disease of 'social entrepreneurship' if they come face to face with a troubling situation such as the holocaust. To be infected, however, it does not have to be so extreme. Those, who catch the disease, know that they have to do something. Doing nothing is simply not an option. The people who helped to hide their Jewish neighbours during the holocaust, when asked why they did what they did, often replied by saying 'We did what we had to do.' Or 'What else could we have done?' Of course, they could have played safe and kept their heads down and yet.... they couldn’t.

The first symptom of 'social entrepreneurship' is that you begin to look for practical solutions to a daunting problem. The people in the holocaust would have asked questions like 'How do you hide a family and keep them fed and clean and healthy without drawing attention to what you are doing?' The second symptom is ingenuity. Really difficult problems are made difficult by powerful forces who stand in the way of s straightforward solution either because of indifference or hostility.. Without ingenuity this opposition to progress cannot be outmanoeuvred. The third symptom is persistence. As long as the problem remains unresolved, the 'social entrepreneur' will continue to look for practical solutions. They will not be deterred by failure. They are never satisfied with partial success. 

The daunting nature of the task which social entrepreneurs undertake means that they have no option but to seek allies - people 'infected' like themselves. One way of doing this is to set out to infect others. They might ask a friend to help out in small way hoping that, having taken one step on the road, they might continue on that road with growing enthusiasm. The initiative and ingenuity and determination of the social entrepreneur give hope and courage to others and, without these virtues, civilisation cannot survive. The term, 'social entrepreneur' does not do justice to what is at stake when people decide that they must do something in the face of a painful situation. It’s not about business or management but giving human solidarity a presence in the every-day world. 'Social entrepreneurs' are the gate-keepers of solidarity. Without them everyone would retreat into their own cynical little world.