All Entrepreneurship is Social

“All entrepreneurship is social.” ~ Carl Schramm, the Kauffman Foundation

My passion for entrepreneurship and my conviction that it can transform Africa is rooted in my 1950’s childhood as the son of ambitious young entrepreneurs in a small west Texas town. My dad was a milkman, who at 23 bought his own truck and became an independent distributor for the Borden Dairy Company. My mom was his partner and accountant. Within a few years, they owned a fleet of refrigerated trucks as well as the local icehouse. They employed a host of sales and delivery people to sell dairy products, ice and eggs to almost every home, business, hospital and school in our town.

At a young age, my parents were leaders at church and in the community. They were independent, respected and hard-charging people that did business with everyone, regardless of their income, politics, religion or ethnicity. My family cared about our town and our neighbors. I learned at an early age that we had a vested interest in everyone’s well-being, after all, families with problems don’t pay their milk bill. Personal dignity, individual responsibility, hard work, family and faith shaped my world. Not surprisingly, I grew up wanting to be an entrepreneur.

Many aspects of owning a business are attractive, but for me, one of the primary reasons was a desire for independence and creative freedom. Being your own boss has broad appeal to many, but in the end, few are willing to trade the security of steady employment for the uncertainty and challenges of entrepreneurship. What makes entrepreneurs different is that they develop a vision for what is possible and then passionately drive to create something where nothing exists. Despite the possibility of failure, entrepreneurs willingly assume responsibility for the capital, talent and reputation they put at risk in exchange for the opportunity to see what they imagined become reality.

Another reason individuals are attracted to entrepreneurship is because the marketplace offers an objective test to measure individual performance and social impact. In a free market economic system, entrepreneurs are free to launch and compete in any business they desire. They can decide what products and services to offer and at what prices. Individual customers use their money to vote on which businesses offer them the best value, that is, quality products and services at the best price. The competitive marketplace decides who succeeds while customers enjoy the benefits. In a recent article on social entrepreneurship in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Kauffman Foundation CEO, Carl Schramm, wisely notes: “All entrepreneurship is social … In the course of doing business as usual, … regular entrepreneurs create thousands of jobs, improve the quality of goods and services available to consumers, and ultimately raise standards of living.”

Entrepreneurial countries, such as the Asian Tigers, teach that the surest path to sustainable national transformation is through a vibrant private sector. To build strong societies, Africa needs to encourage the best and brightest of the next generation to serve their countries by becoming principled entrepreneurs with humble hearts.