Watch the presentation! https://youtu.be/36nnf6wZ2XU
Imagine for a moment that you find yourself in a pinch.
You have just graduated from AC4D and for months you’ve been working on the business you started in the program and it was going really well at first, you even took out a loan to jump start production on your idea, but things started to go downhill and suddenly lost all of your money. The bank has come to collect, you can’t make rent any longer so you’ve been swiftly relocated to the street.
You have a sticky relationship with your family. Your parents always wanted you to be a lawyer or a doctor or “somethings respectable”, but you had moved across the country to pursue design and you told them about this business you had started and how great and they doubted you, and you had failed, so they were right. And now you can’t bring yourself to go crawling back. How could you even afford the ticket home anyway?
In fact, you realize that you don’t actually know Austin all that well and you didn’t spend any time trying to make friends these past few months because you have been so immersed in your business that there is no one you can call.
All of your possessions of value were reposed including your cell phone since you can’t pay that bill either, so tonight you are lying beneath a tree in the park beside the new condo that’s being constructed trying to fall asleep, but actually just batting away mosquitos and clutching the $20 that represents the entire sum of money you have left.
So when the sun cracks through the pecan tree’s leaves the next morning you wake up sore and stiff decide to walk the 3 miles to the part of town you’ve seen homeless people gather, back when you used to drive by and avert your eyes from their presence underneath I35, seeking information.
When you get there you realize finding out how to get help is going to be extremely difficult. First of all these people smell bad and they are complaining and anyone that will actually talk to you just tells you a whole bunch of stuff that someone else said and you feel like your swimming in a big muggy soup of nondescript information that doesn’t actually inform your ability to make any decision about how to help yourself.
You read from Chris La Dantec how homeless persons experience restricted access to information and technology which keeps them excluded from not only society but their ability to find employment and securing housing. Now you are experiencing what he meant first hand.
Not only this, you haven’t eaten or slept well in almost 2 days. The fact that you have to decide whether you should spend your $20 on a taco or buy a ticket to one of the social work offices someone mentioned — which let’s be honest, how can you trust what they said anyway?— is too taxing so that all you can do is sit down and cry into your shaking hands. You weep until you fall asleep in your despair on the side walk in a small piece of shade.
What you are experiencing now is the phenomenon that Dean Spears found in his studies that poverty causes stressful conditions that hinder cognitive function.
When you wake up you hear a voice say “Ugh that smell, these people! They have no self respect. And to think just lying there, not doing anything! How lazy.”
You sit up and look around and see a lady and her husband walking by and realize, they were talking about you. This lady is operating under the folk belief that poverty is the result of bad choices, and not the other way around as described by Dean Spears.
You do have self respect. You even started a business for pete’s sake! You are an entrepreneur, and an entrepreneur as defined by Martin and Osberg has an innate ability to sense and act on an opportunity.
So all you need to do it look for a suboptimal equilibrium…..
So you sit and you think and you have no ideas because you are so hungry your brain is quite literally not working.
But then, you happen to overhear a conversation between two homeless men. One of them mentions how they know about some work on the outside of town. This man says that he can’t get out there because he can’t figure out nor afford the three bus tickets it would take. He says that there are actually a group of foremen that need to clear land for several construction projects. The foremen are willing to pay anyone who shows up so long as they bring their own shovels and rakes for clearing the land.
This peaks your interest.
All of the people around you need money, yourself included, and none of them can afford to get the bus ticket, go to Home Depot, buy the rakes and shovels, find out where the job site is, get the bus ticket, switch buses, get the second bus ticket, and show up on time. They don’t know how much that would cost them so they can’t budget for it, which you read was very important aspect as noted by Le Dantec, so they are disinclined to even try,
If only you could get them the tools and transportation….??
From reading Yunus you know that banks operate under the conventional wisdom that poor people are not entrepreneurial and they don’t give loans without collateral.
So you opt for plan B —You steal.
Sure stealing a car and some tools is probably not the greatest thing to do, but like Spears observed, your poverty is actually causing your bad behavior. And besides, you aren’t that worried about a criminal record ruining things for you given that you have very little going on that could be ruined.
With the car and the tools you start selling rides for a low cost and renting tools to the homeless to take them out to the job sight and it works really well. First of all you realize that not a lot of them had access to this information that there were jobs to be had at these land clearing sites. Secondly, getting there by bus or walking was almost prohibitively difficult due to it’s location. And third of all, no one wants to buy the tools and have to lug them around all the time, but renting them for a low cost was a very appealing option.
What you’ve done is something Prahalad describes as unlocking the purchasing power of the poor, by finding a way to sell to them that meets their unique needs and empowers them as consumers.
You used to think of yourself as an entrepreneur, but now you have embodied what Martin and Osberg call a social entrepreneur because you’ve identified an unjust equilibrium that causes exclusion and provided a solution for a segment of humanity that lacked the means to achieve transformative benefit on their own.
What’s next? Do you turn this business model of renting to the poor into a social business? Do you take on shareholders that are socially minded and care about your cause? Yunus would say you should. He would say you should find partners and dig in. Martin and Osberg would say you should push for scale.
You, however, are still thief. And any business you’d like to build now, whether social or not, will always be tainted and hindered by the crime you committed under poverty. So despite the fact that you are inspired, creative, and courageous your entrepreneurial spirit, innate or not, is not enough to lift you out of your circumstances.