President’s Dream Colloquium: Jonathan Lewis defines Social Entrepreneurship

Mar 14, 2014

Social entrepreneurship is undoubtedly a hot topic in business circles these days – indeed, the Beedie School of Business has a social innovation laboratory and venture incubator, RADIUS, dedicated to the subject. So what exactly is social entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneur Jonathan Lewis, founder of entrepreneurship leadership development video tutorial website Cafe Impact, attempted to answer this very question in the latest of a series of lectures at SFU’s President’s Dream Colloquium.

Opening with his motivation for practicing social entrepreneurship, Lewis related it to his time spent in the Bolivian Andes in 2005, where he was developing a micro-finance program. The local women had been invited to talk about their own micro businesses that had been made possible due to the project – with one in particular leaving a lasting impression.

“Across the language, culture and economic divide, I was able to pick up her pride, her self esteem, and her sense of worth that emerged from her being able to feed her children three meals a day for the first time in her adult life,” he explained. “She is why I am here today – she is my motivation for fighting poverty, creating economic opportunity, and moving closer to a world of economic justice.”

Lewis defines the social part of social entrepreneurship as listening. He stressed the importance for social entrepreneurs to listen to the community and – more importantly – listening to themselves to hear their own commitment and passion for a better world. “Listening is the industrial spine of social change,” he said.

Listing the benefits of social entrepreneurship, he advised that it is an excellent field in which to become involved, with numerous rewards on offer, including a guaranteed return on personal investment.

He cautioned, however, that it is not a career for anyone who can feel dwarfed by the enormity of the world’s problems. Nor is it one for those unwilling to challenge the status quo. “If you’re going to be a social entrepreneur, prepare yourself to make a few enemies,” he warned.

Citing some startling statistics, Lewis revealed his anger that one out of seven people in the world are chronically hungry, with 300 million of that number comprised of children unable to get the minimum daily calories required to live.

“I can’t give you the formal definition of economic justice, but every poor person knows that money is power – for that reason alone, social entrepreneurs need to be in the economic justice business,” he said. “A Bolivian mother’s every day life reminds us that work is tough, and you don’t get to quit. Giving up is a form of arrogance, and one that is the luxury of the well-off.”

In addition to his lecture at the President’s Dream Colloquium, Lewis also presented the keynote speech at RADIUS’ second annual SFU Changemaker Showcase, a celebration of the brightest ideas and social innovators at Simon Fraser University.

Click here for more information about the President’s Dream Colloquium on Entrepreneurship, or here to watch Lewis’ lecture.

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