Philanthropy is like dating…
If you want to meet new people stop hanging out in the same old bars!
I’ve been glad to see the self-reflection going on in the social entrepreneurship space about diversity and more specifically, the lack of diversity among social entrepreneurs.
As one Skoll blogger put it, is it that only White men are innovative?
When there is a bit of colour (not that there aren’t any White Africans), majority of the Africans on the roster of the major fellowship organizations have had the good fortune of receiving Western educations at some point in their careers.
So, why is it that those selecting social entrepreneurs to nurture and support are having such a hard time finding Africans on the continent who are creating valuable social ventures?
This is where my dating analogy comes in.
Recruiters of social entrepreneurs have been hanging out in the same bars and have been meeting the same potential fellows. Those bars are, for the most part, located in North America and Western Europe.
The major, and I think potentially harmful, result of this is that there is a serious dearth of African social entrepreneurs being supported in their innovations for Africa. Instead we are perpetuating the same old formula where Westerners come up with solutions for African problems and try to deploy them on Africans who have given varying levels of consent.(I smell another blog post coming!)
And while I’m at it I should point out that diversity is not just different skin colour, its also different lived experiences. This, I think, is where the rubber meets the road. Its one thing to have someone like me, Western educated, teaching at an American university, and able to speak the language of social entrepreneurship. It’s entirely another thing to have someone who hasn’t left Nairobi, or a rural village, and to identify them and support their community transforming work. These amazing social entrepreneurs are there all across Africa and I would love to see them recognized.
To find such entrepreneurs you’re going to need to get on an airplane and go to where they are, spend time with them and the communities they serve, and figure out, from the bottom up, what kind of help and support they need. It may not look like the traditional networking package offered by the usual social entrepreneur fellowships. I don’t know what it looks like but we need to get bigger ears and keep them to the ground.
Diversifying the field of social entrepreneurship requires a deep deep commitment to diversity. One that goes beyond rhetoric and that is willing to put money where the mouth is. Investing in offices and recruitment officers on the African continent who will traverse the various countries in search of amazing Africans who are silently transforming their communities.
My question is whether the funders of social entrepreneurs are willing to truly and really engage. To commit their resources to visiting different bars on different continents?