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Social Entrepreneurs

by Decker Ngongang

July 6,2007

As this city continues to grow, many changes will begin to take place within the economic and social infrastructure where market demands chart the course of our mini society as much as we do. It is evident with the closing of many of our age-old factories and the often-uncomfortable conversations surrounding outsourcing and the business climate for small businesses that the way we think about economic progress is due for a dramatic shift.

Another trend, which this city will have to decide on embracing, will be that of the social entrepreneur. As growth makes the issues and problems of our community bigger than the current social bureaucracy can handle, we will soon have to outsource the solutions to social entrepreneurs who have the time and energy to find solutions.

A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage their venture to make social change. Our Charlotte community has become so diverse, and so complicated that our current form of handling issues has become obsolete.

As leaders in the Charlotte community, our job is no longer as much to come up with every idea, action and event, but more so seek out and empower those at the grassroots level that are doing just that. Social capital is no longer something to “hold,” but something we as leaders must spend by investing in the people at the grassroots level effecting local change.

In order to seek social change at the level required for progress, our city must open up the market of social justice to everyone the same way our economic community has opened up our landscape for economic development. The currency of charity is often rooted in power politics and through social entrepreneurs we can return the true value of community work to enhancing social value.

As an African American, I have sat in the middle aisle as I have enjoyed access to the high level conversations within our community, but I have also fielded the sincere complaints of many community activists. They tell stories about how Charlotte’s high level philanthropic community is a homogeneous group of seemingly singular color, class, and connection. They complain that social programs are run by people who have for a long time been driving the ideas and goals for an entire community, yet never living in the belly of the beast.

I take this less as an indictment, but as recognition of our community’s need to adapt to the change occurring in our society. The world’s basic structure has changed dramatically and it is inevitable that the way many of our communities function will also change. The ivory tower of leadership many of our communities hold onto is obsolete.

It is going to be the work of neighborhood leaders, young people in college, and the generations of artists who have learned to use their craft to create social change. These are your social entrepreneurs and for Charlotte to grow we must recognize and empower them. This community will live by the ability of our community at the grassroots level to be empowered in making progress real. It is our goal to make sure they have the tools, the access, and the information necessary to achieve their goals for social progress.

Creating supported networks of social entrepreneurs would go a long way to bringing more unity to this community. In too many of the conversations I have with community members, they feel bad complaining because things are being done on their behalf, but they also feel no ownership in the process.

As a leader I have realized that I don’t have the answer, but I do have the social capital to empower someone who does have the answer and a plan to execute it. We must bring to the table those who know, give them the keys and adjust “our schedule” to see that they are empowered to make the changes needed. We must wisely invest our social and economic capital in social entrepreneurs who do more than care about the issues we read about in the paper – they live them.

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