Have you ever had one of those moments when a total stranger says just four words to you, and manages to sum up what you’ve been struggling to articulate for years without even realising it?
I’ve worn a lot of hats in my professional life, often at the same time. Whether in journalism, not-for-profits, education, government, communication and public relations, and now in health and wellness, I’ve started things, strategically reviewed and relaunched things or generally just got in and built something. They weren’t opportunities I set out to find. They came to me and I worked out what needed to happen and who I needed on board for that.
A year ago, when speaking at a forum for Qld Young Bloods, for young public relations professionals, I was meeting the fellow panel members before the event. The inevitable question was posed – what do you do? As I gave a brief overview of my career to date, the listener looked at me and summed it up – So you’re an entrepreneur?
Cue a curious blend of confusion and clarity…
I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur. And yet as she said it, I realised she was more right than I would have expected. It’s not a description I feel entirely comfortable with. Entrepreneurs tend to have a mystique about them and the ones who first come to mind are the Richard Branson’s of the world – spectacularly successful and very wealthy. I also love governance and deeply value team, which is not often associated with entrepreneurs who (rightly or wrongly) are often perceived as maverick solo superstars. My confusion arose because of my preconceived ideas about entrepreneurs, and the clarity because the label made sense. Sort of. I’ve turned the idea around in my mind from time to time since then and still do occasionally.
Why I am writing about entrepreneurs on a hub focused around social justice and poverty?
Those four words uttered by a stranger have made me think a lot in the past year about people who start businesses. I’ve come across them quite a bit in my current role at The Banyans. We support and consult with highly successful CEOs who realise the need to focus on their health and wellbeing to improve their performance, both professionally and personally. What has struck me again and again is the great gift they are providing to their staff through their work.
Those I speak with who are leading large companies often simply started small ones, and through a combination of strategy and good fortune now find themselves at the helm of a significant workforce. Such success brings it’s own brand of work and lifestyle stress, and tools to improve wellbeing become increasingly important.
Generating employment is a contribution to society as a whole and to the individuals engaged in the work created. One of the most powerful ways to alleviate poverty is to create job opportunities for individuals.
Given my background, I know there are many complexities sitting under that statement. Accessing work requires education and training, and that often needs the right nutrition and health care available during key developmental stages. We need to look at a various social systems and personal choices which perpetuate generational disadvantage. We need to be proactive in regards to identifying barriers to employment and developing respectful and empowering solutions to overcoming those.
But what if we do all of that and there’s no people starting businesses that create jobs?
If you know someone who started a business and it generates work for people, they are helping create solutions to poverty, whether they set out to or not.
It’s not the whole picture of course – no single thing ever is – but it’s an important part. A focus on social justice and poverty alleviation can never ignore the vital role that entrepreneurs and business owners of character play.
They don’t just build businesses, they build the tools that people need to build a life.