Can we take our enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship offline? Can we make problems half a world away relevant to our everyday lives?
When the demonstration in Egypt began, I was glued to my computer screen for hours, days on end. Not only was the spirit of peaceful, non-violent demonstration inspiring, but I had just flown out of Cairo 10 days earlier and had my dear friend Lizzie still living inside the country.
As I watched Al Jazeera’s coverage anxiously and awaited word from Lizzie about her safety, I messaged with my younger sister in Korea, who had spent a semester living in Cairo the year previously. If this wasn’t enough stimulation, I was refreshing my Twitter feed every few minutes to get first (or second) person accounts slipping out of Tahrir Square. Never before had an event so far away seemed so real and personal. While I sat in front of my computer screen, I thought about the Egyptians I had interacted with during my two weeks in the country; the man that gave me his seat on the subway and was thrilled to learn I knew restaurant he had worked in while living in D.C. years ago, the film student who walked two miles out of his way to take us to the subway and regaled us with his perfect English and desire to visit Pennsylvania, the kind, apologetic policemen I spoke with after I had an unfortunate encounter with a very grabby teenage boy. Watching the coverage, I saw these faces in the crowd and I wondered where they were, how involved they were and what the protests meant for their lives.
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Gchat, our ability to communicate with friends and strangers around the world has never been greater. The question becomes, does this ability to communicate translate to a real connection? Does it create something meaningful? Through my experiences, I would say yes, but only when paired with real world experiences. I was inspired to visit Cairo after my sister’s beautifully woven stories and pictures from her time there, but it wasn’t until I saw and experienced these places that they became truly real to me.
The protesters in the Middle East used online communications to organize and inspire demonstrations, but it took people actually walking the streets to affect change. Social businesses are very similar. It is easy to be inspired by innovative business models and ideas that are disseminated through blogs, websites and social media, but the real process of building a company to tackle poverty alleviation, access to basic resources or climate change involves a social entrepreneur taking their enthusiasm offline and hitting the pavement to prove their idea and build change. I have the opportunity to see the effect of these entrepreneurs through the social businesses I work with here in India and it’s humbling.
So here’s my challenge to all of you. The next time you share an inspiring article about a social entrepreneur, take a moment to really digest what that entrepreneur is trying to do. Make the problem they are trying to solve real to you. Then, use the enthusiasm, inspiration and passion that idea stirs within you and take it to the streets. Maybe they are the streets near your house or perhaps they are across the city, the state, the country or the world. Regardless, I promise creating a real world connection to your online enthusiasm will make it all the more meaningful. And who knows? You just might change the world.