Compete or Collaborate? by Trey Bowles

Traditional entrepreneurial thought revolves around the idea of competition, capitalism, and self-exaltation. Success is determined by money in the bank, power, influence, and material possession. We are taught to look out for ourselves and always put the interest of our mission first. It is with this attitude, we are told, that we will truly achieve icon status (icon status may include a popular blog, a TV show, or many retweets) in the world of entrepreneurship.

Is this true? Is this Darwinian approach to competition the only rational solution by which entrepreneurs can be successful and transformational change can occur? Could there be another way?

Social Entrepreneurship Defined
In Stanford’s Innovation Review, dated 2007, the authors say that “Social entrepreneurship signals the imperative to drive social change, and it is that potential payoff, with its lasting, transformational benefit to society, that sets the field and its practitioners apart.”

So, if this historical approach to entrepreneurial competition is the only way to success how do you explain the following leaders of social entrepreneurship?

Take Scott Harrison, for example, who is the social entrepreneur who began Charity Water and is arguably one of the most effective leaders for social entrepreneurship in the world. Using his background in marketing and design, Scott transformed the way we visualize and understand providing clean water. With over 6,000 water projects serving nearly 2.5 million people through partnerships and collaboration with 20 countries and over 25 local partners. Blake Mycoskie started a little shoe company we affectionately refer to as Tom’s. He built the concept of “one for one” and made it the go-to model for social entrepreneurs around the globe giving away over one million pairs of shoes and partnering with key NGOs and charities already established and working in these countries. Tyler Merrick, former dog food executive, started a company called Project 7 that uses products that are sold in Walmart, airport stores, coffee shops, and more to provide revenue to solve 7 major areas of need across the globe. Each one of these social innovators is finding success by working to bring together the necessary parties to ensure a greater level of success.

Meighan Stone recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled “Collaboration is the New Competition” and the premise of the article came from the idea that by working together we can create the best possible solutions. Maybe that doesn’t mean we start our own venture or we create a venture that leverages the people, tools, and resources around us. What if we were to join forces for the purpose of the “social good”? What all could we accomplish if we pooled our efforts for the greater good?

Harry S. Truman was once quoted as saying “there is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” This is a complete paradigm shift in thinking. What Stone talks about in her article on collaboration is that young entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs understand and live out the idea that collaboration is more powerful and effective than competition. She sees social entrepreneurs as innovators who do not view other organizations as competitors but rather as innovators of change. There are two central things to these groups’ success: an endemic commitment to collaboration and a refusal to accept the small audience theory. The New Guard, as Stone calls it, shares without hesitation knowing that collaborating creates a better model, knowing that they can make a greater difference and contribute to true transformational change.

If these pioneers of innovation and social change are champions of collaboration, maybe there is something to idea of working together to provide even more opportunity.

In a 2011 article in Inc. Magazine titled “How to become a Social Entrepreneur,” the author discusses some key solutions for being successful in social entrepreneurship. Some of the key takeaways include:

• Know Your Issue
• Build A Brand
• Think of It as a Business

People like Blake, Scott, Tyler, and many others have done a great job of doing this. But none of them have done this in a vacuum. They work together and with others to drive that change, to build these organizations, and through collaboration, they make their organizations greater than they could ever have been on their own.

As we think about how we can be effective agents of social entrepreneurship and social good, let us focus on how we can learn from and work with others at the tables around us. The true victor in social entrepreneurship is not just the innovators and founders of these incredible organizations but even more so are those whose lives and well being are made better through the process.

I commend you, my fellow social entrepreneurs, for all of your hard work, for your focus on something bigger than yourselves, and to a cause and legacy that will far out live any immediate change you can enact. Continue to dream big and execute with excellence. Fight the conventional territorial attitude that most visionaries have to “own” or “control,” and create solutions that use the broader worldview of contributing to and participating in social good. Collaborate, innovate, and develop ideas that can truly change the world.