Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why are most social entrepreneurs very young or very old?

Have you ever noticed that most social entrepreneurs are either very young or relatively old?  Not that many in the middle (say 35-50)?

This is because, dear reader, because you can only really afford to work in social enterprise when you are young and need very little and have no responsibilities (like me), or when you have made some money and can downshift.

I speak, of course, with myself in mind.  From the age of 25 I led, from scratch, a social enterprise that, by my late 30s  the best part of 200 people and turned over about  £5m.  

Financially I was, by global and even UK standards, in a fortunate place.  But I was struggling to meet a big mortgage, we were down to one  income,  two small children, no savings or pension.   

When I left, at 40, I needed to borrow £25k to finance my next business.  I had no capital.

This was tough.  Here I was, successful social entrepreneur and all of that - and having to start again without a pot to pee into.  

As my millionaire pal handed me that loan, I promised myself to ensure that any future business, social or otherwise, would be fully capitalised by the one I had created earlier.  

Fortunately, I found some backing 18 months in from NESTA (for which I am eternally grateful) - but I consider myself very lucky indeed not to have found myself on the job market.

So there you have it.  Being a social entrepreneur, at least in surplus-retaining enterprises, is a luxury of the very young, the rich and the pensioned.  I hope to join the party again one day soon, but only when I can afford to.  

Of course it shouldn't be like this.  Of course it should be ok to make it financially feasible for social entrepreneurs to put their whole careers into social ventures.

But  try telling that to the sackcloth-and-ashes types you find across the charity and social enterprise sector.  

They think you are a greedy b-----d for wanting than you need to survive and would rather you bugger off than receive more in reward, however critical one might be to a business.

Nearly three years into my new venture I am, I am glad to say, doing OK.  I had paid that loan back and am now, at 43, paying into a pension and,  hold your breath, overpaying on my mortgage each month.   

Thankfully I am, through my new venture Stepping Out, also helping to create social enterprises and through our Foundation  support early grass roots ventures with 'angel' funding. 

One day I plan to return to mainstream social enterprise, like many of those who come either from the City or long corporate careers, secure enough not to have to worry about the money side of it all.  

But it isn't ideally the way it should play.  

Better never to have had to leave at all.

Sent from my iPad

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