I had the pleasure of attending the Nexus Global Youth Summit at the UN this week, as a speaker on the Frontiers of Impact Investing panel. We had a fantastic discussion with a room jam packed of talent, energy, and enthusiasm for the use of financial capital to change the world. Exhilarating!
In the next panel I attended on entrepreneurship, also jampacked, and masterfully moderated by Tabreez Verjee, with the insights of Rachael Chong of Catchafire, Seth Bannon of Amicus, and Saad Khan of CMEA. Among a number of interesting points raised by the group and discussed, one particularly stuck out to me: We (may) need more ego-driven social entrepreneurs who pursue personal fame and so increase the visibility of the field.
The first question Tabreez fielded was “What single venture / entrepreneur has been the most impactful on society?” Replies included Thomas Edison, Bill Gates and Microsoft, and BRAC. Seth then asked who in the room could name the founder of Facebook (everyone) and BRAC and only one hand went up (proud that it was the hand of Marilia Bezerra, Inspiring Capital advisor and friend).
This dramatically made the point that social entrepreneurs don’t tend to be spotlight-seekers in the same way that ‘traditional’ business entrepreneurs do. Marilia’s very valid point was that BRAC’s success is not due to Fazle Hasan Abed (yes, that’s the founder of BRAC) as an individual, but to 10s of thousands of employees, plus partners, funders, and clients of the organization’s vast efforts over time.
The counterpoint that while of course no organization rests on a single person’s shoulders, smart, successful, charismatic individuals can be very motivating sources of inspiration for young people considering various career paths. And while there are many such people in ‘traditional’ business, entertainment, and even politics (fewer!), there are few if any visible social enterprise ‘rockstars’.
Do we need to encourage or build such profiles? Or would we regret it?