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How to be an agent for change

By Sally Bland - Apr 05,2015 - Last updated at Apr 05,2015

Intelligence & Compassion in Action: The Seven Pillars for Social Entrepreneurs
Lauren Speeth
Elfenworks Productions, 2012
Pp. 224

 

The point of departure for this book is that the world is not as it should be; nor does it have to be that way. The persistence of poverty, inequality, disease, environmental degradation and violence are well documented. The question is what to do about it. Lauren Speeth offers an inventive, carefully charted approach for those aspiring to be agents for change.

Her guidelines for social entrepreneurship, encased in Seven Pillars, go well beyond charity to empower both benefactors and beneficiaries, and actually solve problems. Hers is “a practical, working methodology to help create an alternative storyline that can turn apathy into action, and wilful blindness into clear vision”. (p. 14)

Substantial expertise and experience underpin the evolution of the Seven Pillars. Speeth holds degrees in psychology, business administration and ministry, added to her extensive IT know-how. Wanting to be an agent for change, she established Elfenworks in 2005, “to identify issues that weren’t being effectively addressed, create change in new and different ways, and amplify successes through storytelling”. (p. 3)

The Foundation produces media content to promote improvements and equality via initiatives in film, music, education, management, law, finance, human development and social justice, in cooperation with other groups working in these fields. 

At the start, Speeth sought the advice of former US president Jimmy Carter; she gives much credit to the successful example of the Carter Foundation’s work in peace making, human rights and the alleviation of suffering. In the book’s dedication, she writes of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: “Their intelligence and compassion in action is unrivalled.”

It is this combination of intelligence and compassion that makes one an effective agent of change. Good intentions are not enough; one must also be cognisant of entrepreneurial principles, particularly the concepts of risk and initiative. “All strategic analysis used in the business world is relevant to the social entrepreneur,” but where “the business person sees competitors, the social entrepreneur may, in the best cases, see potential partners.” (p. 70)

Nor is business sense alone sufficient; the social entrepreneur is driven not by profit, but by compassion for those suffering from the problems being targeted; cooperation supersedes competition.

In a nutshell, Speeth’s Seven Pillars are: Vision, Special Skills, Non-Duplication, Partnership, Credit Sharing, Feedback and Staying Power. Expressed in paragraph form, the Seven Pillars “involve implementing your vision regardless of naysayers, using your special skills in a non-duplicative way, work in partnership with others, giving others opportunity to share the credit for results, having a valid feedback loop to measure those results, and allowing for bumps in the path as you work over time towards greater success”. (p. 41) 

Each of the Seven Pillars and the process involved in its implementation is explained in a chapter of the book, augmented by descriptions of the work of organisations that bear witness to the effectiveness of this approach. These real-life examples are quite exciting and indicate real possibilities for change, especially organisations that train their clients to be part of staff.

One of these is Fr. Gregory Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, the largest youth gang intervention programme in the US, where 200 former gang members help run a bakery, café and other shops that fund about a third of the organisation’s operations. Similarly, Robert Egger’s DC Central Kitchen employs those who previously needed food aid as cooks, while feeding 4,500 of DC’s hungry. The many descriptions of other groups’ work also demonstrates the broad outreach that Speeth and Elfenworks have achieved by practicing partnership as a pillar of success.

For Speeth, engagement in social entrepreneurship is connected to her Christian faith, as it is for the Carters, but she asserts that the Seven Pillars harmonise with other faith traditions and can also be valuable to those who are engaged for purely humanitarian reasons. In a supplemental essay at the end of the book, she discusses the basis for social action in relation to Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, as well as Christianity. 

Written in a tone which combines confidence with humility, this book is both inspirational and energising. With the Seven Pillars logically presented and backed up by real-life examples, and each chapter followed by challenging questions, it could serve as the basis for a course or training sessions in social entrepreneurship. Speeth is visiting Jordan this week and will speak at the World Affairs Council on Wednesday.

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