I had an opportunity recently to dive into the very young and very hip entrepreneur scene in my city. I was actually on site to attend a student led school board candidate forum, and as the parent of three children in the public schools, I wanted to know how the candidates would address the students and their concerns. After all, in business terms, the students are the “consumers” of the product known as education that our school district is distributing to them, one (by which recent test scores indicate) that is, at best, an inadequate product for most of our students.
After this event was a presentation by Brad Feld on “Startup Communities” and how you (as an entrepreneur) can impact your community. As I looked around the room, I noticed that I wasn’t the target audience. In fact, I was
• Definitely old enough to be a youngish mother to some of the audience members
• Definitely not dressed in the right “hipster” garb
• Definitely lacking my cup of ultra, expensive coffee
• Definitely not knowing who Brad Feld was and why I should be still sitting there
But I despite all that, I did learn a few things that, though they were completely geared to the young, start-up audience member, could still be utilized by an old, social media do-gooder such as myself.
One, in any community there are “leaders” and there are “feeders.” The leaders are the entrepreneurs, usually those people who take great leaps of faith to start or produce the next big thing, relying on a dynamic network of other leaders to encourage, support, and engage with them on the brainstorming, planning, and production of their vision. The feeders are pretty much anyone else in the community such as organizations, government agencies, venture capitalists, and even individuals (but those individuals are usually representing the larger group).
To break it down: Leaders are those who do and feeders are those who support those who do.
When I look at it that way, I am someone who uses social media to spread a message about a cause I believe in. I place a great deal of faith in what I do, and I am supported by others who use social media, and we are all in turn, supported and encouraged by the machinery of the cause. (For example, I write and support the UNF Shot@Life global vaccination awareness program. They, in turn, support my efforts to advocate on their behalf by providing some data and content but letting me find my own voice in how I share that relevant information.)
Brad Feld went on to explain that there “are no presidents of a start-up community” and that the “leaders need to be inclusive of everyone.” And that’s actually the great thing about advocacy. Through the course of this year I have met incredible advocates, some working on the same issues, but who tell the story in completely different and compelling ways, each lending their voice to the choir and making the message that much stronger. There are no “I was here first” moments, but more “What took you so long to get here, I’ve been waiting for you to join me,” celebrations instead.
To keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive, there should certainly be a continual stream of activities and events, meet-ups, mash-ups, accelerating programs, start-up weekends, and weekly coffee clubs, so it is the same for those of us who work on advocacy campaigns. We continually connect, re-connect, re-group, and re-purpose our goals, mission, and vision in order to stay relevant and vital in an ever-changing landscape of important and worthwhile causes. Advocacy isn’t a one time deal, or gig– you have to be in it for the long haul. Consider it an “all in until it’s done” approach.
Let’s be honest. Just like for the entrepreneur community, those of us who work to use our social media for social good understand that it’s the person who you truly end up supporting far more than the cause they are actually promoting. If you believe in the person you follow on Twitter or Facebook or someone whose blog you follow and they ask you to support an issue they feel passionate about, you are far more likely to support that issue than if you receive a random phone call, email, or flyer in your mailbox.
In both endeavors it is about relationships. Do you believe in the entrepreneur? If so, then their product doesn’t matter as much as their passion about their product. Do you believe in your friend the “change agent”? Again, if yes, then you have confidence that the cause they support is worth your investment (either financially or emotionally).
You don’t have to be young, hip, or drink expensive coffee to be either the entrepreneur or the social media do-gooder, you just have to believe in your vision, your mission, your cause, and yourself.
And if you are really fortunate to belong to a community, then the power of me becomes the power of we. And we can tip the scales so that the odds are ever in our favor.