For many of us, the idea of social enterprise is intriguing and inspiring. We hear captivating stories of people launching businesses to address problems they see, and they capture our attention with great storytelling and a compelling business model. While it is tempting to hear these stories and think that these enterprises only happen to other people, you too are capable of launching a social enterprise in your own community. If you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, ask yourself and your church community these questions, and you might find yourself with a breakthrough idea.
First, we must constantly have a finger on the pulse of our neighborhoods. This awareness will help guide us as we ask our first question, that being “Where is there a need, problem, or pressure point in my local community?” This question roots us in the understanding that we launch social enterprises after first observing and listening for the needs of the people we live amongst. This question is not always easy to answer, and does not always find its answer in the surface level. Most of the time, this question forces us to dig deep into the neighborhoods we live in, talking to friends and strangers, attending local events, doing research into the history, present and future plans of the city and towns we find ourselves in. This question, when approached thoughtfully and with care, can reveal to us where our communities are hurting, and where there is a void that could be filled by our work.
Second, once we identify the social problem or the “what,” that needs to be addressed, we must move on to asking “Why should we be the ones to address this problem, and what is our underlying motivation?” This question helps us frame the problem within a set of ethics or motivations that drive us to participate in a solution. Understanding why we want to help is extremely important in social enterprise development. When our why is driven by guilt, the desire to be the “Savior,” or out of pure impulse, our why is misdirected. Framing the problem with a theological mandate helps us to better understand why we do good and what our role is in the process.
Third, we ask ourselves “How will we seek to address this problem and what is our overall strategy?” This question demands our creativity to pull together the best solutions to solve the problems for the long-term. One of the most helpful things to do as you ask this question is to also form a team around your solution, so that resources and brainpower are pooled and united in force. One of the most untapped pools of resources for churches are the congregants who show up every Sunday and sit in the sanctuary. There are young and old, accountants and doctors, teachers and mechanics, who hold a wealth of experience about a variety of skillsets. These are the people who form your most valuable assets as you explore sustainable solutions for key problems.
No matter if your church is big or small, rural or urban, rich or poor, we all have the capacity to serve our communities and develop innovative enterprises. When the process seems overwhelming, one of the best things we can do is to start asking questions, knowing they are the catalyst for great social change.
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