Want Transformative Change? Positive Deviants Can Help

Truth be told, I have been known to irritate those in charge, albeit not intentionally.

It took me many years working within various bureaucratic settings to realize it was largely the result of my assuming others understood the nuances as well as the values brought by those described as social innovators or social entrepreneurs.

Along the way it was sometimes discouraging to find how challenging it was for many of those in charge to embrace new ideas or concepts when they didn’t have a box to place them within their existing organizational structure.

Yet, when it became clear others didn’t always understand the value of social entrepreneurs, I floundered somewhat, finding it difficult to describe the characteristics of these outliers or ‘positive deviants’ and why they were so important.

So what exactly is a social entrepreneur and why are they important?

Successful social entrepreneurs tend to understand they need to begin with a ‘why’ before following with the ‘how’ and ‘what’. In other words, the most successful social innovators tend to put the emphasis on the issue or problem they are addressing, the impact their work will contribute to the public good, and how it can be done.

Typically they are also good at nurturing and strengthening relationships. This critical talent allows them to collaborate to refine their product or service as well as spread and adapt ideas at all levels. These relationships, as they deepen over time, are what ultimately will sustain new approaches and make success travel.

As they build relationships, the best social innovators will work across organizations, silos, and sectors to forge alliances with the public, private, and non-profit sectors to harness the power of both established institutions as well as those at the grassroots level. Along the way, they have to work relentlessly to find allies, identify strategies for collaboration, and develop formal and informal networks, coalitions, and Communities of Practice (CoP) for knowledge exchange. In this way, step by step, and yet not without some pain along the way, they are able to reduce barriers to change.

Despite the fact that social entrepreneurs are often very diverse, they do seem to share some common characteristics.

They’re usually persistent – some might call it stubborn, collaborative, good communicators, comfortable with chaos, and creative.

Typically they are passionate about making a difference and as a result too often settle for less money and more hours. They think and strategize on their own time, and because they get excited when they’ve simplified something really complicated, often give away their knowledge to others who may not value the learning curve it took to get there.

So why are social entrepreneurs important to us?

Ultimately, if we’re going to ensure social, environmental and economic well-being and improve our communities as better places to live, work and play, we need social entrepreneurs who generate ideas, adjust, adapt, rework, and create.

Not sure about you, but now more than ever I think those skills should be welcomed, supported, and valued.

Posted on 05-19-22

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