D is for don't believe the hype: Be your own fiercest critic

You might have a mantlepiece full of awards and kitchen drawers full of certificates acknowledging your social entrepreneurial brilliance, but Liam Black won't buy it.

Don't believe the hype he says, reflecting on the social enterprise award culture that has developed over the years in the fourth extract taken from his new book The Social Entrepreneur's A to Z.

Don't believe the hype

“How many social entrepreneurs does it take to change a light bulb? One. And a committee of 12 of the great and good to hand over the ‘You’re SO Awesome Award’.” Jude Noir, social entrepreneur

 

Have you won a social enterprise award yet? If not don’t worry, there will be another competition you can enter coming along any minute.

It is entirely possible to spend your life schlepping from one social entrepreneur conference to another being told by politicians/celebrities/actors/wealthy Americans/former presidents just how bloody amazing you are.

Indeed, some of the social entrepreneurs who breathe the rarefied air in Oxford University’s Skoll World Forum or the World Economic Forum in Davos seem to spend all their time talking about the poor in five star hotels to the ever-so concerned rich and pained. Building a personal brand, one kiss-up at a time. 

If poverty could be ended by the hot air generated in Oxford and Davos they’d be bathing in caviar in the slums of Rio and Nairobi tonight.

The social entrepreneur awards culture has been fascinating to watch develop. With the arrival of the Skoll and Schwab big bucks, those who are elevated to the ranks of fellows receive substantial cash – and a world of C-suite access and connectivity opens up.

The social entrepreneur PR industry grows all the time and is hungry for content and personalities. This is dangerous and results in people being hailed as saviours and game changers when their business models are nowhere near proven – still less their damaging, unintended consequences known and understood. 

Be your own fiercest critic. Take the issues of poverty and empowerment seriously but for goodness sake don’t take yourself too seriously and never believe what is said or written about you

Skoll et al have brought many great things to the sector and their contributions to the developing eco-system are huge. But the creation of a super league of A-list celebrity social entrepreneurs, networking, dining behind the VIP curtain is not without its contradictions and problems.

Certain of those A-listers are bullshitters and narcissists whose mission is themselves. I have looked behind the scenes of a few of their ventures and the mismatch between rhetoric and reality is stark – as is the misalignment between personal lifestyle and public stance about the poor and oppressed.

Be your own fiercest critic. Take the issues of poverty and empowerment seriously but for goodness sake don’t take yourself too seriously and never believe what is said or written about you.

 

The Social Entrepreneur's A-Z with foreword by Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus and illustrations by Spike Gerrell is available to order through Amazon here. You can read more details on the book itself here.

 

Tune in to the podcasts...

To accompany each chapter of his new A to Z is a podcast, in which Liam Black puts social entrepreneurs from all over the world in the hot seat to discuss what it takes to lead the pack and the challenges along the way. Listen here.