Social good: a natural extension of entrepreneurship?

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I have a theory I am postulating in The Book that once people disconnect from the "my corporate job sucks and I am trapped in cubicle hell" world and start a successful entrepreneurial venture that they naturally become more compassionate and interested in social change.

I think this is due to a number of reasons:

  • Long-suppressed emotions, dangerous to expose in corporate life, rise to the surface and you begin to feel more deeply
  • Having launched a successful venture, you realize that it is possible to take something from concept to reality
  • You look at world challenges through an entrepreneurial lens:  as a problem to be solved, not as something overwhelming and unchangeable

Although I don’t talk about this much, I admit that all my "freeing corporate prisoners" work is actually a secret plot to unleash smart people on world problems.  In college, I majored in International Service and Development, with an emphasis on Non formal Adult Education in Latin America (say that three times fast!).  The basic theory underpinning my work, which I studied in-country in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, is that when people have access to education and supportive networks, they take care of their own problems. 

Such was the case with mothers I worked with in an exceptionally poor neighborhood of Bogota who formed a collective day care center to tend to the children of the community.  This was also the case with the young former gang members I worked with in San Francisco and Oakland, who radically turned their lives around after training martial arts.

While some people may think working with highly educated corporate employees with existential angst is the height of elitism, I actually see it as the first step to creating deep, widespread social change.  (A commenter on my post asking people what it felt like to work in a cube, said "I guess I am in the minority. Working in the cubes at Hewitt Associates
gives me a feeling of protection and security. I don’t have to work out
in the harsh elements, I have the benefit of air-conditioning &
heat. We have it better than 2/3’s of the rest of Planet Earth’s
working class. Think before you gripe so much.")

So I was delighted, but not surprised, to see some of my favorite bloggers and "living the dream" entrepreneurs band together for a new endeavor which combines athletic training with fundraising for Darfur: Train for Humanity.  The co-founders are:

Leo really embodies the domino effect of change, as he revealed in an interview for my book.  He started by quitting smoking and losing weight.  Once he did that, he tackled debt, and clutter, and a lot of other things that made him feel better and stronger. Excited by his research and first-hand success with changing habits using positive thinking, he started his blog Zen Habits.  With his blogging success, he was able to quit his day job and start writing full-time.  Now he is working on this social endeavor, one of what I imagine will be many in the years to come.

What Leo, Mark and Dan demonstrate is that you don’t have to wait to amass enough fortune to give away 40 billion dollars like Warren Buffet. Or you don’t have to be a life-long activist like my dear departed friend Carlos Aceituno.  By awakening your body, mind and spirit, you just may find that you are one step closer to your entrepreneurial dreams.  And in the worst case scenario, you don’t raise one dollar for charity, but get that "I’m a hip entrepreneur and athlete" vibe going on.  It won’t hurt!

In their words:  How You Can Help

1. Sponsor Leo, Mark or Dan

2. Help Spread the Word

Helping isn’t just about money. If you
have a blog, a website, a Facebook or Twitter account, or just an email
address book, I’d like to ask you to take just a few moments of your
time to post, Digg, Stumble, forward, tweet, email, or otherwise help
spread the word about Train for Humanity. You can find pre-written blog
posts, badges for your site/blog, and other easy word-spreading ideas
right here.

3. Become a Participant

We’ll soon be opening TFH to other
“everyday athletes”. Anyone with a desire to make a difference can
participate – the only requirement is that you take part in an
endurance event, such as running, walking, cycling, or swimming. The
distance isn’t important. Some TFH participants will run marathons,
others will walk a few miles, but they’ll all be making a difference. You can signup here.

Photo credit:  I took this picture 23 years ago, when I lived in a small village in Mexico with a farming family.  The pure joy on the faces of these boys, with their homemade spinning tops, still makes me smile.

10 Responses to “Social good: a natural extension of entrepreneurship?”

  1. […] is so cool: writing in Escape From Cubicle Nation yesterday, Pamela Slim suggests that social good is a natural extension of entrepreneurship. This reminds me, happily, of the dreams of the late 1960s, when a lot of us — mostly young […]

  2. Tune In, Turn on, Do Your Business

    This is so cool: writing in Escape From Cubicle Nation yesterday, Pamela Slim suggests that social good is a natural extension of entrepreneurship. This reminds me, happily, of the dreams of the late 1960s, when a lot of us —

  3. Sue Liu says:

    Thanks for this great post. I agree with you 100% – that education (and health care) are the keys to helping communities take hold of resolving and solving some of their issues. Social change needs to come from within.

    I have done this work myself, and support others like me – who STEP OUTSIDE their own sphere of existance to help others.

    In my own daily work, I am self employed professional in the Business, Marketing and PR area. I use my powers for GOOD. It is an integral part of my business and my philosophy is to lead by example and be visible.

    I have created a communications support network and conduit for those individuals (not corporates) in the field running programs at grass roots level – for communities in Australia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, the Congo and Kenya.

    This is a STARTING point – I hope it grows and grows.
    There are SO many who aren’t motivated into ACTION when it comes to helping others. My goal is the change that. To inspire and motivate people to take some action, find an opportunity to get involved and connect with communities and individiuals.

    We are all doing small things that get the people. Lots of small and direct things – DO make a difference to these communities.

    Sue – Chiefette from Zulu Communications and Head Fairy God Aunty.


    It is SO wonderful to hear what you are doing! Brava!

    And I now have an official “favorite job title of all time, bar none”: Head Fairy God Aunty.



  4. Dan Clements says:


    I LOVE your not-so-secret plot to to unleash smart people on world problems.

    Thanks for this great post, and your support of TFH. It’s much appreciated!

  5. Outi says:

    Pam, this was beautiful! I quoted you in my blog, although you probably won’t get much out of it because of the language 🙂

    But I enjoy your blog so much, and find it most encouraging!

  6. Tim Berry says:

    Pam, I love this post.

    It’s not just the cubicle refugees, though, I think it applies as well to the entrepreneurs in general, and particularly the smaller-scale entrepreneurs who haven’t quite the temptation to get lost in the dizzy air of empire building.

    For most, the power of value — giving value, believing in values, and clustering with people who share those values — is a very strong driver. I’ve seen this many times through the years.

    And that then means that your three reasons apply as well.

    What you’re saying here resonates. I feel like I’ve dealt with the phenomena you cite, and often.

    And thanks for the TFH reference, that’s exciting.

  7. Though I agree about the phenomenon, I don’t quite agree with the thesis. Most people in this culture – whether they work with an organization focused on profits or with one focused on social good – operate under a view of themselves as instruments of some entity outside themselves. This position applies to both altruistic and selfish areas of their lives.

    The corporate employee may experience this as, “Someone else pays me for my time, and I may contribute to good causes with the time and energy and disposable income. I may instead spend it on a nose job. Ultimately I am limited by what I can get ‘them’ to pay me.”

    The nonprofit employee also works from a disempowered position like, “I help homeless people by giving my work day to this organization, and they shape how I contribute. I make whatever sacrifices ‘they’ demand, such as accepting low pay.”

    Entrepreners becomes an agent rather than an instrument, and organizations become vehicle for the entrepreneurs’ own agenda rather than a master.

    At the root, that attitude towards life doesn’t require being an entrepreneur at all. I think one of my struggles has been that my mom instilled that attitude in me from day one – and she was a public school teacher.

    I realize I’ve always seen organizations as merely vehicles for the people in them. I’ve always been sensitive to demands “for the sake of the organization” that really reflect the demands of some individual or group within the organization. And increasing work for myself has merely been a trade-up to a more comfortable, more controllable vehicle.

    As always Barbara, great thought-provoking comment.

    My frame of reference is coming from working with corporate employees who clearly feel stuck and unhappy. And when they are in that state, they can certainly support causes and do things for the good of humanity. I certainly did, when I was a (happy) employee and volunteering upwards of 80 hours a week.

    I guess the perspective is on what happens when you specifically take the employee to entrepreneur leap — i have noticed such a sense of accomplishment and excitement that it often leads to deeper engagement in life.

    All entrepreneurs are not philanthropists, that is for sure.
    At the same time, a significant number of them get really energized to do some new, different, interesting things that are a direct result of their dabbling in starting a business.

    Like all in life, “it depends,” no?


  8. Pam, I absolutely agree with your theory. I am in transition (at least mentally) from cubicle dweller to entrepreneur. As I consider what fork in the career road to follow, thoughts of social impact are constantly appearing in my path.

    Although I haven’t taken a huge leap yet, I have found the joy of helping others through my blog and some charitable and social-change efforts that I support. One of the factors that motivates me to start my own business is the desire to accumulate and direct resources to the causes that my family and I would like to support even more strongly than we do now.

    Great post! Thank you for the TFH information. I’m looking forward to your book as well!

  9. anne jackson says:

    check out – a team i was a part of earlier this year…blogging in uganda…

  10. mark says:

    Pam – thank you for your kind words about Train for Humanity.

    We really hope that this pilot project will be a success so that we can truly expand and grow into an online humanitarian community.