Business

3 things to consider when adapting entrepreneurship for the post-COVID world

An employee of tech start-up Sendy, which offers online logistics services, works on her computer at their office in Nairobi, Kenya, October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner - RC1FE1B5F060

Entrepreneurship must be positioned as a problem-solving process that seeks to address systemic challenges, rather than as a wealth generator. Image: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Rahmin Bender-Salazar
Assistant Professor in Sustainable Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick
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Agenda in Focus: Social Entrepreneurs

  • To be useful for the Great Reset, entrepreneurship needs to see a democratisation whereby it is made accessible to all.
  • Entrepreneurship needs to be positioned as a problem-solving process that seeks to address systemic challenges, rather than as a wealth generator.
  • Entrepreneurship must integrate the following three aspects: ecological and social systems; collective responsibility for justice; and posture of learning.

The current global reality comprises a concurrence of wicked problems – intractable and complex societal challenges – that encompass all aspects of life, which are, day by day, becoming more complex. As the world has been engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic, acts of violence, highlighting inequality and systemic racism in the United States, have sparked protests around the world. The threat of climate change, ecosystem degradation and natural disasters is ever-present and increasing. Meanwhile, a global economic crisis simmers in the background.

How can entrepreneurs adopt a systems-thinking approach for their ventures to address these systemic and structural problems in society? What can entrepreneurs do, as change-makers, to impact social justice and change societal norms as we recreate our global structures for the post-COVID-19 pandemic world?

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, recently suggested a solution: “To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions… In short, we need a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism.”

Enter, entrepreneurship. In its traditional form, entrepreneurship – the act of venture creation – is often considered an innovation driver within our global economy. But many see entrepreneurship as only existing in Silicon Valley with high-technology, exponential profits and wealth extraction as a main driver. But in its ideal form, entrepreneurship can be an engine for galvanising social change, preserving environmental sustainability and creating a prosperous economy.

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For it to be useful to the Great Reset, we need a form of entrepreneurship different from that of popular culture. This requires a democratisation of entrepreneurship, wherein the entrepreneurial process is made accessible to all. This definition requires entrepreneurship to be positioned as a problem-solving process that seeks to address systemic challenges, rather than as merely a wealth generator. To be defined in this way, entrepreneurship must integrate the following three aspects:

1. Ecological and social systems

Our current approach to entrepreneurship echoes our current economic framework in its basic form, which is with an orientation towards economic growth. But for entrepreneurship to meet the needs of the Great Reset, all venture- and value-creation approaches must integrate social justice and ecological systems.

Luckily, there is a growing push for more integrated approaches using models such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut and de-growth economics. These approaches, by design, strive to prioritise social and ecological needs, while economically sustaining entrepreneurial ventures. The evidence of the benefits of social and ecologically sensitive regenerative and circular approaches is extensive, such as the growing application of cradle to cradle and circular bioeconomy – and public awareness of these methods is growing.

Through understanding the interconnectedness of the various systems that interact in society and nature, and adopting a systems-thinking approach, more appropriate and specific solutions can be created for global challenges. Entrepreneurial ventures and the entrepreneurship process are powerful engines for problem solving and should integrate a systems-thinking approach to meet the needs of the post-COVID-19 pandemic reality.

2. Collective responsibility for justice

For entrepreneurship to incorporate ecological and social systems effectively, we must understand our collective responsibility for justice. We can no longer think of the world as a zero-sum power game, in which for some to win others must lose. To combat that conceptualisation of the world, it is important to recognize mankind’s dependence on mutual progress, cooperation and collaboration. The challenges of our time are often seen in silos or tangentially related, but there is an opportunity to expose how these challenges disproportionately impact those that are most vulnerable.

To do this, we must create a system that takes into account structural inequality, generational trauma and historical disenfranchisement. This begins with understanding that the world we live in was not designed for all humans and that elements of our economic, education and health systems, among others, need to be reimagined. One example, in particular, is the reality of African Americans in terms of opportunity and access to justice.

This can only occur if we are willing to create a safe space for healing, reconciliation and recognition of systemic oppression. This increased understanding must then be translated into concrete actions – such as diversifying leadership across institutions, especially those involved in entrepreneurial ecosystems – and addressing longstanding gaps in opportunities for under-represented populations.

These modest steps can push entrepreneurship towards its new, more inclusive and collaborative form.

3. Posture of Learning

Entrepreneurship can be used as an engine of transformation in the Great Reset if it is practiced as a problem-solving process with a posture of learning.

A posture of learning – which includes the placement of solutions into context, creative experimentation with ideas, and reflective and iterative practices – is necessary in order to adapt to the ebb and flow of problems. Problem solving within a posture-of-learning framework allows individuals and societies to make mistakes as they continuously create iterative solutions that are reflective of past actions.

We should consider how to move away from solutions-based thinking, which can result in the loss of good answers while in pursuit of the best one. A posture of learning allows mistakes and imperfect solutions in entrepreneurial ventures to be tested, iterated upon and continuously adapted to best fit the situation at hand. This skill is needed now more than ever, as we rethink the systemic norms of recovery and how entrepreneurs can best contribute to the Great Reset.

Discover

What is the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship transformed

By incorporating the aspects outlined above, we can now understand entrepreneurship to be a problem-solving and learning process that can sustain itself materially, that adds value to the systems it is a part of, and that addresses needs within those systems. In order to fully mitigate the complex social and ecological challenges we face, we must create coherence in our approach to entrepreneurship within the context of our current reality.

Through consistent experimentation with new ideas, learning to improve approaches, and reflective iteration to address systemic social and ecological problems, we can improve the state of the world by creating value through entrepreneurship.

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