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5 Tools of the Successful Social Entrepreneur

February 4, 2011

Okay, so you want to be a social entrepreneur? Awesome. We need more change-makers tackling our biggest challenges. We need more innovators. Frankly, we need you.

But, what do you need? What skills should you be honing? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are 5 tools I’ve found invaluable. I’m willing to bet they’re necessary to becoming a successful social entrepreneur.


♦ Social entrepreneurs are nimble.

We fail. A lot. You’re going to blunder. The people around you are going to mess up too. Mistakes are inevitable. I repeat: You will eff up at some point.

What’s important is how you handle failures. Process. Analyze. Pivot.

Learn how to recognize failure early. Ditch strategies and processes that aren’t netting results. Be ready to attack a problem with the same gusto in a completely different way.

Be a quick learner. Change tactics. Stay open to possibility.


♦ Social entrepreneurs learn from their network.

One of the most important things I learned in 2010 is that you can ask the competition for advice.

Take a moment. Pause. Re-read that: You can ask the competition for advice. They won’t laugh at you. They won’t throw you out. They will give you frank answers.

I know this to be true because I’ve been on both sides of the question. I’ve  explained all of my difficulties and said, “is there any advice you’d be willing to give me?” And, there was. Tons of valuable information. So when someone called me up and asked the same thing, I told her everything I’ve learned.

I can assure you there will be numerous hurdles, overwhelming obstacles and plenty of frustration. There will be plenty of unanticipated obstacles.

Social entrepreneurs utilize their network to avoid the avoidable. They harness the power and collective knowledge of the people who have come before them. They make new mistakes and then pass the lesson along.


Social entrepreneurs are direct & precise.

Leo Babauta recommends, “know your bandwidth, commit to it, then put your head down and accept no other outcome.”

Embrace tunnel-vision, the end goal, and do everything possible to make sure it happens. The journey may change, tactics could very, but what is constant will be your commitment and attention.

Be impeccable. Be unrelenting. Be decisive and laser-focused.

Ask yourself what wants to happen. Do those things. Repeat ad infinitum.


♦ Social entrepreneurs are masters of endurance.

Listen to the master of showing up + shipping, Seth Godin:

“Go to work on a regular basis. When you’re doing hard work, getting rejected, failing, working it out–this is a dumb time to make a situational decision about whether it’s time for a nap or a day off or a coffee break.”

Learn how to work through the fears and doubts. Learn how to quiet your inner critic. Learn how to keep going. You will need to show up. Everyday. Always.

Dedication and devotion are everything.


♦ Social entrepreneurs ask insightful questions and listen to the answers.

So, you’ve moved across the globe to solve big problems. Perfect. You probably arrived with a ton of ideas. I know I did. And, I was eager to start implementing. Therein lies the problem.

Before you start implementing, go ahead and talk to the people directly affected what they think. How do they define the problem? What strategies have failed in the past? Do they have any solutions?

You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

Solicit input. Listen to what’s being offered.


What have I missed? Anything you’d add to the toolbox?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 6:58 am

    I am a TED fan and enjoyed reading your chronicles of life in Cambodia. Curious to know if there has been any reaction to news of the death of Gen Vang Pao, the leader of the Hmong resistance fighters?


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