Like the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, I would also say: it takes a village to raise an entrepreneur. We have this myth of the lone, heroic entrepreneur. And certainly, there is courage and heroism in launching a business. But if you are to succeed, there must also be countless influences and supporters along the way, as well as advisors, suppliers, partners, and, of course, customers. Any business exists within the context and fabric of a community – a living ecosystem or “village” – that is vital to the enterprise’s ability to develop, adapt and thrive. It may be useful for the entrepreneur to remember: you’re not alone. Perhaps more important is to recognize: the business is not you. It is something you steward on behalf of and with the support of the village.
Consider the very word “entrepreneur.” Those with some knowledge of French may assume that it means “take between-er” or middleman. In fact, the word comes from the Latin “inter prehendere,” which means to take hold of something with both hands in the interest of both responsibility and mastery. There is a sense of adventure in the full etymology. There is craftsmanship implicit in such an endeavor. And there is also generosity. The entrepreneur undertakes something on behalf of the community, in service of the common good. This is the spirit of the relatively new concept of “social entrepreneurship,” but the social implications are, in fact, baked into the word “entrepreneur” itself.
Importantly, we are also beginning to recognize that it takes an entrepreneur to raise a village. An area’s population only becomes a community – a village – through repeated moments of meaningful exchange and collaboration. Think about how challenging this has become in places like the US, where people are often isolated by expansive, car-centric infrastructure, single-family homes, and the disappearance of both faith communities and the public commons. These days, it is primarily our workplaces that bring us together to share our gifts, to be nourished in relationship, and to contribute to the greater good in some way. In other words, to create community. Outside of work and family, many of us interact with other humans only during errands at nearby businesses. And again, this can be a deeply rewarding experience of authentic human care and community.
Workplaces and retail settings can just as easily be impersonal, transactional and – too often – toxic. Frequently, both our work and our customer experiences are devoid of a real sense of connection and community. And we suffer from this lack of village life. According to the scholarly journal Psychosomatic Medicine: “The magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking.”
Without the entrepreneur – the person who takes matters into their own hands and calls people together to solve problems and create new possibilities – we have no village.
If we dig deeply into these two insights – that it takes a village to raise an entrepreneur and an entrepreneur (or, in fact, many of them) to raise a village – we find in them an invitation into our power and responsibility as both entrepreneurs and village members, no matter what our undertaking and no matter what the scale of our village.
We all have the opportunity to “be the village” – to recognize the value of local businesses and non-profit organizations, to support them, and to gather around them in the spirit of community. We are taught about the wisdom of the “free market” system. But that lesson doesn’t usually take into account the value of community and the role that the human entrepreneur plays in that. And as research proves irrefutably, economies grounded in local business provide better jobs to more people and are more thriving and resilient overall. Saving a few cents at Amazon, Costco, Walmart or Home Depot today will cost you dearly before long.
Indeed, we all have the opportunity to be entrepreneurs, as well – to look for ways to take matters into our own hands in the spirit of adventure, craftsmanship, contribution and community. To take something on, to grow in mastery, to express our intrinsic generosity and to discover the depths of our courage. Isn’t this what the world needs from us, now more than ever?
How will you use this power and responsibility today, and in the year ahead?
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