Building forward

Does social entrepreneurship hold the answers to building a brighter future for people and planet? Following the publication of their book, ‘Social Entrepreneurship: A better way of thinking about a more sustainable future’, Mel and Alex discuss how social entrepreneurs could have the blueprint for building a brighter future.

Alex Matthews: I can’t believe we have published our first book as The New Ism! It’s the first in a series of five books that will explore how society can learn from social entrepreneurs. This first one acts as an introduction to the concept of social entrepreneurship and explains how social entrepreneurs approach problems. Do you think there’s an awareness in society at large of this group of people?

Mel Young: Yes, it is very exciting. It has been on the boil for a while now and it is fabulous to see the book in print. It is coincidental that it has come out during the pandemic: there is a lot of talk about what the world might look like after we have got through the pandemic. But we were talking about this before the pandemic and the imperatives haven’t changed. People don’t know about social entrepreneurs but they certainly should. Looking through the eyes of social entrepreneurs who offer real practical solutions is the first step, and it is incredibly insightful. So, wider society needs to engage with this sector more: not just right now, but into the foreseeable future.

AM: Do you think that the pandemic has caused people to understand more deeply that the ‘old’ system doesn’t work? The New Ism is based on the premise that the old system is broken and we need a new one – and that social entrepreneurs are already in the process of creating something new and different. Is there increased appetite for change now that Covid-19 has exposed so many of the cracks in our global system?

MY: Yes, I think so. At the moment, there seem to be two camps – one which believes that we just go back to ‘the way things were’, and the other which believes this is an opportunity to change the entire way we exist. There is a fascinating divergence emerging. A lot of media people are using the slogan ‘build back better’, but I actually believe the slogan should be ‘build forward’. We need to be looking forward and seeing the potential of a new world with different values; we should leave a lot of the old world behind. We need to create a fair world which includes everyone so that poverty and exclusion are genuinely confined to the history books, for example. And that means changing the system completely, which is what our book is about.

AM: Yes I agree – this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (quite literally) for society to create fundamental change, which is why it’s so fortuitous for us to be bringing our book out now. I think that social entrepreneurs naturally have a ‘build forward’ mindset, as opposed to a ‘build back better’ one. They aren’t really interested in tweaking the current system: they have big, bold ideas based on fundamental values that they treasure, and they aren’t afraid to implement those ideas to help improve people’s lives or save the environment. I believe that it’s people like that who should be leading us into the future, rather than our current leaders who only seem able to use the past as a reference.

MY: Yes indeed, but the challenge is that social entrepreneurs are often doing brilliant work, but it is not changing the system. They are inhibited by lack of proper funding and can end up stuck in silos which are not of their own making, and entangled in unnecessary bureaucracy which is invented by the current system. They do have answers but they are still small players: their solutions need to be rolled out on to a much bigger stage. In our book, we are not saying we have all the answers – we are pointing to the great work that is going on and saying that it should be applied globally. At the same time, we are asking people to engage with us in a positive way and add their thoughts into the mix. Let’s see if we can create a system which can work for everyone in the future.

AM: Exactly – and that’s the whole point of The New Ism movement – because two people by themselves can’t possibly have the answers – we need constructive, positive input from as many people as possible. That is what we will be working on over the coming months – we’ve got lots of exciting plans to implement!  

I think one type of reader that we are hoping will be attracted to the book is the young person who wants to drive change, but feel disempowered by the current system. I think social entrepreneurs are able to provide a huge amount of inspiration and positivity for people who desperately want to create change, but aren’t sure how. In the book, you draw on your own experience as a social entrepreneur to describe what motivates you, what social entrepreneurs are like, and how to become one. What is one piece of advice you would give to the young person described above?

MY: Obviously young people are so important in this area. This is their world which they will inherit, and there is huge potential to create positive and impactful change. I would urge young people to engage in a constructive way in their local areas and indeed with an organisation like ours. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, just something small – but it must be something positive. It is very easy to moan about things just now, but let’s be constructive and positive. Young people can change the world completely – in a good way. Their voice is crucial.

AM: Absolutely. I would also humbly suggest that they read our book as it contains so many examples of how social entrepreneurs are having a positive impact – maybe one of those examples will inspire them to understand how they can personally make a difference.

I think this is really exciting – there’s so much potential to be uncovered, both in existing social entrepreneurs and in young people who so passionately believe that change has to happen. I hope our book can play a role in that.

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