“I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they’re really trying to do is launch a start-up and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in the business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now.” Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, p. 569
Say what you want about Steve Jobs. And if you’ve read his biography, you know there is a lot that can be said. Immediately after his passing many commented on his contributions to society – and mused on whether his entrepreneurship was a greater force than any philanthropic effort he could have exerted. They were interesting comments, but ultimately, these are no-win arguments. Rather comments for comment sake. Entrepreneurship and philanthropy do not need to be diametrically opposed, put in different silos, or made to face an imaginary either/or battle.
Friends of mine would simply classify both as leisure. Serious leisure, that is.
What resonates in Jobs quote above and as key tenant in philanthropy is the notion of legacy. Regardless of your preference, entrepreneurship or philanthropy, both are a means to continue the legacy of an individual, of an organization, of the methodology of work, or of humanity itself. At some point, when we figured out that we are on this planet for a short duration we realized we could use structures to enshrine our legacy. Structures (tax, political, legal, regulatory, organizational, religious, cultural, etc) were created to preserve these legacies for the future. As we’ve seen, entrepreneurship and philanthropy were enshrined in different structures. An artificial division that was made up by our policies and politics. There’s no one good reason for why, just a thousand so-so reasons for why it happened. We just made it up.
In some ways, we continue to make these ‘random’ choices as we build the field of social entrepreneurship. To defend ourselves, we’ve been wise enough to identify that our previous structures have siloed our legacy building efforts – entrepreneurship vs. philanthropy, business vs. social, for-profit vs. non-profit, bad vs. good. Through social entrepreneurship, we are hoping to blend these structures together. We are tearing down the walls, filling in the gaps, and imagining the structures of the future. But again, we really are making this up as we go along. Still, in our defense, perhaps this goal is more noble because we are hoping to evolve beyond the bifurcation* that was created before we were around.
Legacy-building requires some nerve and some nerves of steel. Whether you are using entrepreneurship, philanthropy or a combination of the two – Steve is right, you’ve got to be in this for the long-haul. It’s easy to think that we are smarter at legacy building than our ancestors. That it won’t take us as long to build, that our impatience is simply because we know more about the work, about the approaches, and about the results than the old guys did. We see these attitudes displayed as actions in our zeal for ‘finding the big successes’ to put social entrepreneurship on the map, by our attempts to capitalize large returns for investors, in our hasty cobbling together of social impact bonds, and through our manic pursuit of building a new, less bifurcated legacy.
“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” ? Marie Antoinette
Entrepreneurship and philanthropy have never been as disconnected from one another as we might like to think. If you read Philanthropy in America, you’ll know that the concepts have always shared a similar journey and that many of the tenets of social entrepreneurship were being discussed a hundred years ago. For all that we want to imagine that we’re now finally blending value, we’ve always been having this conversation. Today’s iteration is just our spin on it. What will stand a generation or two now from in what we are building in social entrepreneurship? Will we have taken the time to know the legacies that came before us? Will social entrepreneurship have stuck around for that long? In the midst of our action, we are well poised to reflect on how we want to enshrine our legacies – and whether our efforts will look wiser to our grandchildren than our ancestors attempts seemed to us.
*Favorite jargon of the day. Courtesy of Impact Investing. Good book.
(Originally posted at Trico Foundation, March 30, 2012,)