Is Entrepreneurship a Social Justice Issue?
Here’s my quick answer: yes.
Before I went to law school, I had been a schoolteacher and volunteer social worker. I had clear ideas of what social justice issues were: homelessness; education; racial equity; hunger… and the list goes on. On the other side were the interests and concerns of “business” – profit; resource extraction; lobbying; competition; management control, etc… I had a distinct sense of the world divided into those fighting for justice and equality to change the world and those laboring for commercial gain. Never mind that it has always taken willing buyers and sellers to sustain any business (do you buy Fritos?). I can’t say this simplistic attitude changed much until I began to work with startup enterprises.
When you work with startups and early-stage entrepreneurs, you are talking face to face with real people who are trying to change the world and launch a dream. The notion of “business” as a monolithic greed machine collapses in the face of this human reality. These are your neighbors, your cousins, college kids, retirees, immigrants working tirelessly to build a business and maybe become something much bigger. What about Kiva.org, which channels direct loans to micropreneurs in the developing world? Would anyone really doubt Kiva’s social justice mission? Of course there are wealthy entrepreneurs as well. So be it. Everyone should have a shot to launch a new business.
In the current economy, when huge numbers of employees are on the streets, “everyone’s an entrepreneur.” For many of these often involuntary entrepreneurs, starting a successful business is a practical necessity - meant first to cover living expenses. And the current economic crisis is forcing creativity. How can you find some way to differentiate your good or service from those of others in a meaningful way and successfully deliver it? This is business learned on the battlefield.
Given that small businesses generate the largest job growth in this country, entrepreneurs are the new community organizers – turning their dreams into places that can create meaningful work for others. This is especially true for enterprises pushing innovation boundaries – green tech, med tech, information tech, retail tech. These in turn are driving the creation of other new enterprises. Think of all the rechargeable battery startups emerging from the re-birth of the electric car.
Here are some good Minnesota examples of the empowering nature of startup enterprise:
· Collaborative workspaces like CoCoMSP and Third Place – connecting independent entrepreneurs in common purpose
· The African Development Center of Minnesota – helping to foster new enterprise in the African immigrant community
· Simple, Good & Tasty – promoting local and independent food biz
· Mobile Twin Cities – building a community of mobile app developers and mobile startups
· Sofia Angel Fund –putting resources into new innovative businesses owned, led or operated by or for women
So when you think about entrepreneurship, think of it as a social justice tool to empower individuals, drive dreams, push new beneficial tech development, promote collaborative work models, create lasting jobs and re-humanize the fundamentally human nature of business. Support policies in Minnesota (like the angel tax credit) that nurture entrepreneurs.
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