By Darlene M. Damm, who has worked with Ashoka for over five years and is a founder of DIYRockets and a co-founder of Matternet, which are aeronautics and aerospace companies designed to launch new industries and benefit the world. (Find this article at: www.forbes.com)
Where are the women who have not only started companies, but launched entire new industries disrupting the way the world works?
As a female entrepreneur determined to “put a dent in the universe,” this is what I am observing: To bring about wide-scale change, women need to focus on breaking the rules rather than playing by the rules.
If you look at the areas where women are succeeding today, it is primarily in areas where the task is to play by the rules. Women are succeeding (and in many cases outperforming men) in primary school, secondary school and higher education. Women are excelling in the fields of medicine and law. Women are starting small businesses in the US and overseas in large numbers. And more and more women are being promoted into CEO and leadership roles at large global companies.
While this progress is beneficial to women and society, it falls short in that women are primarily achieving success within existing systems rather than pioneering new ones.
While women will stay in school to master the ideas of their books and professors, men will drop out to start a company around their own original idea.
While women are launching small businesses in the decades-old and well-understood industries of beauty, consulting and micro-finance/handicraft, men are launching start-ups in high tech fields with the most cutting edge experimental technology and new business models.
While women are working their way up the corporate ladder for decades at a time into CEO roles running other entrepreneur’s companies, men are founding their own companies and growing them into global companies in a sometimes just 3-5 years.
In short, women are playing it safe looking for success in already established fields. By definition this prevents women from leading large-scale, disruptive global change.
While we don’t really understand why women are approaching the world from this angle, for myself it was a question of confidence. In the past if I had an idea I wanted to pursue, I would wait for someone else who “knew what they weredoing” to tell me it was good enough. If people didn’t agree, I feared pushing it for jeopardizing my relationships with others.
It was not until I started working with the organization, Ashoka, the world’s largest association of social entrepreneurs, that I absorbed the organization’s philosophy of “giving oneself permission. ”
I learned that while I should always be open to feedback, it was up to me and only me to evaluate if my idea was worthy enough and then, if I believed in it, do whatever it took to make it happen in the world.
It was a new level of responsibility, risk-taking and way of relating to others that was absolutely essential for striking out on my own into new territory.
To bring about wide-scale change, women need to understand the mechanics of how wide-scale change happens.
It was also not until I started working with Ashoka that I learned that there are methods for creating revolutionary global change. For example, if you want to improve education outcomes for a nation, you need to change how the nation’s education system works rather than just one school. Ashoka Fellows are selected for their ability to bring about systemic change.
Thankfully, many women are very highly skilled in this area and are flourishing in bringing about revolutionary change as social entrepreneurs in almost every nation.
Many women are less familiar with another method of generating wide-scale change- the utilization of exponential technologies. As a participant at Singularity University in 2011, I spent 10 weeks learning about a set of technologies—those grounded in computers, artificial intelligence, energy, material science and biotechnology that follow Moore’s Law—technologies that are rapidly becoming more efficient while at the same time becoming much cheaper—all at an accelerating rate.
This means that, like the cell phone, these technologies will likely be accessible to almost everyone in the world some day. They thus have a tremendous ability to solve problems and change the world at a global scale.
The future of the women’s movement is in entrepreneurship rather than advocacy.
For centuries women have been improving their rights and status through advocacy—asking those in power to change laws and behaviors and treat them more fairly.
While that was important historical work and perhaps the best option at the time, I believe we are now at a new historical moment where women no longer need to advocate—they can step up as entrepreneurs, take charge and make the world as they desire.
Imagine if only 15 years ago, droves of women had stepped up to found the world’s Internet and tech companies that are now running the world? Instead of having to continually advocate for lawmakers and corporate leaders to resolves issues like the wage gap or daycare, we could just change it ourselves.
But first, in order to re-make the rules, we have to be willing to take on the responsibility of breaking the rules. Given the level of opportunity that we have today, combined with our ability to bring about rapid global change through system-change and exponential technology, there is no better time to start moving than now.