Many of us will be familiar with the typical idea of entrepreneurs from TV shows such as Dragons Den and the almost fabled stories of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg amongst many others. Popular culture presents these people as risk takers and mavericks, going beyond the accepted orthodoxy to reshape our world. Entrepreneurship, however, comes in many shapes and sizes. Social entrepreneurship focuses on creating social change through developing and growing new ideas to society’s challenges at a grassroots level. Local people taking a stand to solve a problem about which they are passionate.
Social movements are built on the back of this passion. We need to find a way of enabling passion in a way that leads to action, while making sure that we don’t get in the way. Organisations like Spice and Community Catalysts have been doing this for years - building local networks of passionate and disruptive social entrepreneurs. These are people often with small ideas and bundles of passion and enthusiasm. People like this are not rare but are often hidden behind bundles of red tape, low confidence and a system which has taken away their agency. Edgar Cahn, the civil rights lawyer and the founder of Time Banking, termed the phrase ‘throw away people’ to describe what the deficit based system did to people, especially those with ongoing care and health needs.
Two such entrepreneurs we’ve had the pleasure to work with are Jane and Rob Gwynne from Carmarthenshire. Both were full-time parents with extensive caring commitments whilst dealing with depression and social isolation themselves. Initially, Jane and Rob started earning Spice Time Credits through local groups but have gone onto create an organisation called Create Me Happy - an organisation that promotes making and doing as a way to create and sustain positive health and wellbeing for children whose parents are experiencing mental illness. Create Me Happy has a goal to prevent and reduce the challenges that these children face in the long term.
Jane’s inspiration to help others came from her own experiences of hitting rock bottom:
“We started doing little bits of volunteering, kind of out of curiosity, kind of out of boredom and we found we were meeting some really lovely people, earning Time Credits and getting out of the house. We also felt safe in this environment. Something very difficult to find as depressives. I remember going to one workshop and just sitting and crying, people got it, they didn’t think I was nuts, they knew I was at the end of my rope, and just listened, signposted help and continue to support today.”
Through creating the organisation, at first informally, Jane and Rob were able to take control, manage their caring and support commitments and also to reach out to others across the community who were in need of support. Their first-hand understanding of challenges, shared by families in a similar situation, became the common ground on which Create Me Happy was founded and continues to grow.
Rob and Jane took action within and with their community. They are a powerful example of what the backbone of community looks like and where social movements start. Creating enabling conditions and offering support in the right way at the right time will ensure that we see many more Robs and Janes come forward. When we think about social entrepreneurship in this way we can reframe the all-dominant role of competition, as seen in entrepreneurship based on profit, and reframe it as a new mutualism. This allows us to build on the best of ideas and solutions that have been nurtured in communities of all kinds, and started by the unlikeliest of entrepreneurs.
Some of the best innovations start in communities, with communities. They might emerge over kitchen tables and chance encounters, but what they always have in common is a vision for social change and improvement.
David Russell is Head of Development and Policy at Spice Time Credits and recently contributed to a RSA Insights video laying out the opportunities and challenges for taking up social movement approaches to health.
You can follow him on Twitter @daithirussell
This is a guest blog which contributes to a partnership between The RSA, NHS England, Nesta and NEF exploring what role social movements can play in improving our health.