visitors from Bali, fellow social entrepreneursSocial Entrepreneurship

My doorbell rang this morning at 4 AM.  I was expecting out-of-town guests to show up at 6AM, and I figured it was them coming early, way too early.  I jumped up in my bed-headed and confused state and greeted the three visitors waiting patiently at my gate.

They had just traveled all night in a chartered minivan from the resort island of Bali, which is one island over and 10 hours away from Java, where I live.  They came this week to learn from our team on how to start an outsourcing business, something we did three years ago in Java.  All three of them have a heart to see people lifted out of drug addiction and the sex trade industry of Bali, and they know that people who escape that degradation need a steady job to stay free.  Prostitutes simply don’t have a lot of other job options, even if they somehow able to pay off their debts.  They need gainful employment for the long haul.  My three new friends are determined to give people like that new opportunities.

Welcome to the world of Social Entrepreneurship.   It’s a blending of the best in business with a heart for community development.  It’s fueled by people who launch small start-ups to give others a leg-up.  I first learned this concept in 2006 when I read Thomas Friedman’s excellent book, The World is Flat.  Friedman contends that the world has been flattened by globalization so that people from any walk of life have access to success, thanks to the internet. He writes, for example, about how people in India used to dream about going to America and striking it rich, and now the visa application lines to the U.S. embassy are noticeably shorter.  No need to embark on the New World because the whole world if flat.  Not only does he trace the history, good and bad, of a world economy but he introduces us to some people who were harvesting the best out of globalization for the world’s poor.  He calls them social entrepreneurs, these people who are teaching a man to fish rather than giving a man a fish.

 I was intrigued, as I had lived in Indonesia for many years and had given away many fish.  They sure go fast.  I remember after a natural disaster here once giving everyone in a village a kilo of rice, and they immediately asked for more the following days.   I always felt so limited with how to serve the poor in a more sustainable way.  When I read that book a light came on.  That’s it…I want to be a social entrepreneur.

We started brainstorming with some members of our English Club on how to start a business here that would give poor people better access to internet-opened opportunities.  We kicked around a few ideas and finally settled on starting a graphic design outsourcing business.  Our focus became doing high quality PowerPoint presentations at affordable prices. Our promise to clients was to us send us your notes, and we’ll take it from there.  Slam bang presentations delivered back to you within 48 hours.  Our vision was crafted as “empowering the poor through excellence in business.” 

In February of 2007 PowerPointPartners was born (we’re now in the process of changing that to Presentation Elevation).  That was three years ago, and since then we have had nearly 300 people go through our free graphic design class for the community.   All of them get life-changing jobs skills and the crème of the crop become our employees, which now numbers seven Indonesians. This week’s free graphic design class, taught by its former graduates, features 20 street beggars, all more eager to learn new computer skills than even the fried rice we offer them.  It will be fun to see if some of them have the self-motivation and determination to escape the cruel clutches of poverty.  We can only provide a ramp for them; it’s up to them if they will take it.

 I’m having the time of my life.  I’m enjoying running a business that has an eye on more than profit margin.  We define success not only in items of profitability, but how many people we can empower out of poverty.  The most fun is going into our office and seeing one of our young workers, who just a year ago was unemployed and struggling financially, now creating a stellar presentation for a prestigious Western business.   How cool that my partners in Bali are trying this same audacious idea.  I wish and pray them well and look forward to the day when former drug addicts and prostitutes get off the streets of Bali and into great jobs.

Sounds fun?  Do you want to be a social entrepreneur too?  Have you already started?  I think we should form a tribe. In this blog I’d love to hear your thoughts below.