Refusing to be enemies; refusing to be beat.

Humans resist oppression.  Humans challenge injustice.  Societies expect resistance and challenge, to be non-violent.  Oppression and injustice, is a violent experience for those involved directly.  Society’s expectation not to fight fire with fire; that two wrongs do not make a right.  Society calls on the oppressed and forgotten, to resist peacefully, and to refuse to become enemies of “the other side”.  Many have written eloquently about this paradox.

Malcolm X was most on point perhaps,

“Non-violence is fine, as long as it works.”

The “Human Right” is said to be a right that society believes belongs justifiably to everyone.  Everyone has the right to realise the potential of resources available to them, the social and cultural rights indispensable for their dignity and the free development of their personality.  They have the right to develop as a person; to determine themselves.  They have the right to health, food and clothing, housing and medical care, a family life.  They have the right to education.  The right to participate, freely, in the cultural life of community, to enjoy the arts and share in scientific advancement and its benefits.  In summary, as Aerni writes, people have a right to determine who they are, develop themselves through their innovation and access to science and technology.

In this context, we can understand entrepreneurship in hard places.  

Entrepreneurship is a human rights issue.  Entrepreneurship is an expression of self-determination, a quest of personal and community discovery.  Entrepreneurship is a vehicle for development, through innovation and access to technology and systems, including hard technology, markets and associations.  Entrepreneurship amplifies human potential, beyond the individual.  Entrepreneurship is a form of active citizenship, leadership and democratic stake-holding.

Entrepreneurship is a form of non-violent resistance and a way of challenging injustice; which can work.  

When it works, entrepreneurship can be replicated and scaled into systems which can overcome resistance and balance out injustice.  Entrepreneurship brings outsiders in.  The output of enterprises brings more outsiders in.  Societal change is often discussed as a competition between bottom up and top down.  It can also include, outside and inside influences and power-balances.  In this context, the binary non-profit / for-profit distraction has little to offer.

This isn’t validation, we were looking for something else

When Katarsis Ventures was launched on its mission to demonstrate to others that it was possible to nurture innovation, enable enterprise and pipeline investment in hard places, we didn’t understand entrepreneurship in this context.  The values base has, fortunately, proved complementary to this.  As this insight has been conjuring we worked on a number of long-term partnerships, proving our theory of change worked, validating our business model, and which provided the unexpected learning.

One of the smallest projects, has just completed its fourth year.  It started with a programme, a valuable introduction leading into a mentoring relationship with a social entrepreneur.  This progressed through the entries and exits of an organisation seeking to become sustainable, while dealing with the everyday and more high-level pressures of operating in a hard place.  The innovation, became an ambitious, if contained experimental unit, a lab, which would extend the organisation’s cultural products into an uncharted market.  In this case, theatre-based education for vulnerable and traumatised children and their families.  The social value was improving the psycho-social wellbeing of this group of people.  Of this we were pretty certain.  The economic value, and the wider value for the refugees employed to build and lead the unit, could only be forecast.

These are some highlights, by the team of 6 young entrepreneurs who have built the enterprise, reflecting on the effect on them over the last 3 years.

  • Back then, the stress was high and the team argued about small things.  Now the team handles much more complex challenges, and does it better.  That transfer well to living here.
  • Now there is a purpose and meaning to my work, which is a big part of the purpose and meaning of my life.
  • A move from being impulsive and unplanned, to discovery and improvising.
  • At first I struggled to focus on creating value for others, my own experience was so loud.  This has changed over time.  I have learned the value of empathy, appreciate the influence of the market and put my own experience in context.
  • Doing the things associated with entrepreneurship has deepened the professional knowledge I had, and empowered me to do things I wouldn’t if I just continued to specialise academically or employed in a job working for someone else.
  • We believe the competition was stronger than it actually was, and it has been an amazing feeling to become stronger than them.
  • I was afraid.  I was nervous.  I have become convinced of my abilities and a much better communicator.
  • I have emerged.  I am known.  I have a persona.  My friends always reflect on how happy I am, and I am a positive influence in their lives.
  • I am more flexible with people.  More responsive in a wider range of situations and I enjoy learning more about myself, it is a discovery.
  • We face now, what we thought was unfaceable.
  • I feel pride.
  • I feel valuable.
  • I am worth more than I thought I was.
  • I like it when our work is compared against others, because I respect their quality and would never before have compared us to them.
  • For our country, our people, I think people would see success, see that we can achieve something important to this society, see and appreciate women adding value.

Summing up into this main point,

“That we are not victims, even though we are victimised.  

We can lead, even if people assume we must be helped.”

Personally, this is why I believe entrepreneurs in hard places are the true peace makers.  Not peace-process-engineers or participants; the leaders actually creating the conditions for peace because they literally make peace profitable, matching the obvious capacity of conflict to do so.  Still waiting for big bang validation on that!

This team in particular has only just started a journey, and there is a lot more to do, and they will lead this forward and we will exit.  They are now more investment ready, and may be now access a wider range of growth capital than they would otherwise have done.  So while they are less donor dependent, they have broadened their options for collaboration as well their capacity to innovate independently.  They generate revenues, from the market and donors with a ration of approximately 60:40 and a PPP of approximately $250,000 per annum.  They created and sustain 6 jobs.  They are exploring market opportunities locally and internationally in 3 countries in the MENA region.  They were supported to create their own accelerating culture, with tailored support to structure capacity building.  They have achieved this independent of an external support eco-system, such as a start-up programme or competition.  The majority of entrepreneurs (perhaps 90%) do it this way and especially in hard places, even though one could observe investment and development in and of those over the same period of time.

As mentioned earlier, the human rights context to this approach was not well understood and in part has been revealed as we have been able to gather more data about the personal development goals achieved.  This directed our research and was further validated by feedback from the rest of our portfolio.  In other places, the personal development can be similar, it just matters differently because the context is also different.  Conscious awareness of the human rights context, will sharpen our focus and help us consolidate existing partnerships while exploring new ones.

The entrepreneur’s human right to develop and the full human potential emerge through their innovation and enterprise, should be better protected and the human rights context better integrated into support.

Entrepreneurs in hard places refuse to be enemies, refuse to be beaten.

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