“Every company has the potential to change the world, and will not survive if it doesn’t.”
“The idea that ‘sex sells’ is so 2000 and something – in 2017, it’s activism that sells. It’s meaning that sells. It’s the things you stand for – and against – as an entrepreneur, a human being and business, that sells.”
Entrepreneurial Activism is the new norm.
It’s a business imperative.
It’s the new entrepreneurial reality.
This is not a nice to have.
It’s not a cute novelty.
What good are you doing? How do you contribute to the world? What is your mission – not your mission statement, but your actual mission? Why do you exist? How is that good a central part of your business? What is your stance on current affairs and politics?
These are the questions your clients are asking right now.
Just look at what’s happening around the world right now – social pressure by clients to ‘do the right thing’ has caused business owners who previously attempted to stay out of politics, to declare a side.
Uber just completely backtracked on their ‘work with’ stance with the US Government, after 200,000 users deleted the app.
CEO and Founder of MindValley, Vishen Lakahni, has been outspoken in his stance against the Muslim ban.
Elon Musk stated that while he would personally make his stance on the Immigration Ban known to Trump (he’s against it), he felt it was important to remain on the advisory council.
Welcome to 2017 – it’s a whole new world.
What you stand for – and what you stand against – says more about your brand than any logo, mission statement or corporate prospectus.
Attempts to be apolitical become a political statement in and of themselves.
It’s up to you whether you use this to your advantage, or whether you let it blindside you.
By getting out in front of it, you can control the conversation when it comes to your brand, your business and how you engage politically – and particularly socially – with the community and the world at large.
This is the new reality. And you ignore it at your own peril.
Entrepreneurial Activism vs Social Enterprise
When I first learned about the concept of social enterprise, it really excited me – the idea of a business that operates for profit, but also focuses on ‘giving back’.
However, as I began to dig further and further into the industry, I found that it had become a buzz word, often adopted by businesses who wanted to sound like they were doing more than they actually were.
‘Buy 1, Give 1’ models have been studied over the last few years and have huge flaws – not only do they not solve problems, they also can create them by undermining local economies and entrepreneurs.
Donating a chunk of your profits to charity is nice, but it can come off feeling like a token gesture – does engaging in corporate philanthropy really make you a social enterprise?
That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of really amazing social enterprises out there doing phenomenal things – there are. And I have nothing but respect for them. It’s also not to say that people who are doing the above aren’t honestly trying to help – I’m sure many of them are.
The businesses I’m most interested in, though, take their social enterprise a step further into what I call Entrepreneurial Activism.
While technically social enterprises, they go beyond the donation of money and goods into actually going into communities to create real and lasting change.
A wonderful example of this are a company who spoke at The 8 Percent Festival in October, Outland Denim.
Not only do they physically rescue women in Cambodia from human trafficking and sex slavery – they then employ these women (on Australian pay rates) to create their product.
This is no token gesture. This isn’t throwing money at a problem.
Founder James Bartle and his team spend large amounts of time in Cambodia working on the ground with these women.
And their activism is absolutely central to their business model (not just to their marketing).
Outland Denims business IS activism – everything else is secondary. Understand – this is still a for-profit business. Because you can save a hell of a lot more women with a bunch of money than you can without it.
This is what Entrepreneurial Activism looks like.
Activism, by its very definition, requires action. It requires more than donation – it requires campaigning. It requires agitation for real change.
“Entrepreneurs, Not Governments,
Change the World.”
You got into business to make a difference. You wanted to support yourself and your family, sure – but you also wanted to create change. To leave a real and lasting impact on the world. To build a legacy.
To get where you are, you got yourself into the cycle of hustle and grind. Pushing constantly from one thing to the next – stuck in survival mode, long past the point that you needed to be.
I found myself in this exact position in late 2015. I’d worked so hard and for so long I’d lost all sense of reason. The business was turning over in excess of $1Million a year, but I still didn’t feel successful. I found myself constantly tired and wondering,
“What now? This can’t be all there is?”
I’d done all of the seminars, all of the exercises, all of the personal development. But I was so afraid.
Because we live in a world that not just condones, but celebrates, individual achievement at the price of burn out. And that’s all well and good until you’re no longer satisfied with individual achievement. Then what? Who are you if you’re not the person winning and achieving?
It was the invite I got to Necker Island for the Virgin Unite event Disrupt for Good that changed everything for me. At that point, I was already on the path of my Great Work. I’ve always been passionate about working with thought leaders and experts – people who’ve put typically a decade or more into their career, focusing on excellence, creativity and courage. They’re the people I call The 8 Percent.
On Necker, I realised that my 8 Percent clients were all perfectly placed to help with many of the issues I was hearing about – disrupting the death penalty, women’s issues domestically and globally, poverty, health.
Not only were they well placed – they were desperately crying out for this. To engage in something more than individual achievement. It was, I realised, the answer to the ‘Million Dollar Meltdown’.
Because entrepreneurs, not governments, change the world.
Never has this been more true, or more important, than right now.
The Captains of Industry have the ability to put a great deal of pressure on any Government.
As those who pay huge amounts of tax, as those who employ most of the population, as those who have access to the upper echelons of power, they hold a unique position.
Not of the Government – and thus not needing to concern themselves with constituents, voters and re-election.
Not of the general public – because they have influence that exceeds that of the average joe.
Well respected – often in both arenas, they’ll be listened to by all sides.
This was why it was so important to so many people that the businesses invited to be on Trump’s advisory board refused.
This is also why it was so important to so many people that the businesses invited to be on Trump’s advisory board accepted.
For the last few years you’ve found yourself caught up in a cycle that was once rewarding, but now leaves you feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Because if you’re really honest with yourself – you don’t need more. You’ve got ‘enough’ – you’re just afraid that if you look at it that way, or else you’ll lose the drive you’ve got to do more.
The answer to that is simple – it’s time to redirect all of that energy and ambition to something bigger than you. To impact that goes beyond your ego and really changes the world, not just your bank account.
How to Become an Entrepreneurial Activist
The most important part of this whole equation is that making money, capitalism, doing good and declaring your stance publicly don’t have to be separate. In fact, the way the world is heading, they can’t be.
That said – you’re better off ignoring this altogether than going into it half-assed to make money. Yes, not becoming an Entrepreneurial Activist will cost you clients and money. Yes, it will cost you growth. But your clients aren’t stupid – if you use this as a cynical marketing ploy they’ll see right through it.
You have to engage in activism around a topic you actually care about. You need to be able to dig into your own life experiences and personal passion to uncover what it is that will be right for you.
If you do this for show or to tick a box, it simply won’t work.
One of my favourite Entrepreneurial Activism companies is Beauty Counter. As the name suggests, they’re a beauty company based in LA.
All of their products are chemical-free and safe – they go beyond the 11 chemicals that have been outlawed in the US and have created their own list of more than 1,500 chemicals they will never use in any of their products (you can check out The Never List here).
They have an in-house science team who are constantly researching and testing various chemicals to decide whether they’re safe to use.
They also have an in-house lobbying team – who go to Washington on a regular basis to campaign to have the same chemicals Beauty Counter isn’t using, generally outlawed. They take their fact-based, peer reviewed science and present it to lawmakers. They lobby for a safer and better world.
Again, their activism is central to their business – and more important to them than money.
I heard founder, Gregg Renfrew, speak at an event last year and she talked about how other companies were saying to her:
“If you succeed in having these chemicals banned, you’ll lose your competitive advantage! Everyone will be doing the same thing and you’ll no longer be able to differentiate yourself.”
Gregg looked sincerely puzzled by people thinking that her businesses marketing was more important than the lives of the women and children she serves.
What is the issue you care about so deeply you’d hire lobbyists and take time to pursue?
What is the goal so big it can’t be achieved in your lifetime?
THAT is a cause worthy of the energy and ambition you’re currently wasting on hustling for ‘more’.
If you’re not sure where to start –with ideas or with taking action on the idea you already have, or perhaps you’re looking for a community of people to work with on these issues – I’m running a live podcast.
I’ll talk about how you can find your own Great Work – but also give you some inspiration around what we’re doing with bringing entrepreneurial skillsets into communities throughout the Asia Pacific region.
To attend (or get a copy of the recording), sign up here: