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Top 10 Ways to Use Empathy to Support Social Entrepreneurship

McKinsey recently ran a piece on social entrepreneurship that percolated positively in all corners of global deal-making, from government halls to executive suites at major companies, from hallways of prominent charities to conference rooms of global Non Governmental Organizations. Written by Bill Drayton, the CEO of Ashoka — an organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs — the article focuses on empathy, sympathy and the power of collaborative entrepreneurship.

Empathy, both in social entrepreneurship and in the business world, can be a powerful lever to help you reach your goals quickly, improve productivity internally and in multiple-team collaborations, and make your campaign not only cost-effective in the short term, but also efficient in the long run.success-banner-.jpg (1280×720)

#1. Understand the Power of Empathy

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is an essential quality in social entrepreneurship — and in business entrepreneurship, for that matter. Familiarize yourself with your own personality, and understand the psychology of your staff, so you can better engineer social campaigns and initiatives that will get their buy-in. Simple employee surveys can help you determine causes that are near and dear to your personnel’s hearts, so you can commit resources where they matter.

Read: How can we develop empathy through storytelling?

#2. Get Inspiration from Your Own Experience

Your own life story — and the stories of your staff — can be potent, inspirational troves to help you support social entrepreneurship. If you take a look at the Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ list of leading social entrepreneurs, you can see how most, if not all, of them burrowed into their own existential tales to push for significant changes in their respective fields. To be empathetic, know yourself. To be empathetic in social entrepreneurship, become familiar with the challenges that the target public is facing, and see how these vicissitudes are similar to your own (past or current) situation and how you can help solve them.

#3. Partner with Similar Organizations

Collaborative work is the very essence of empathetic, social entrepreneurship. Identify organizations that share your values and goals, and find ways to work in tandem. Partnership has many benefits, and you can share everything from knowledge and insight to resources. Unity makes strength, and by coalescing with other organizations, you can affect policymaking durably and make your causes resonate in the public discourse.

#4. Take Advantage of Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing helps you make better decisions. By tapping into the collective wisdom of the crowd, you can increase the level of empathy in your initiatives. According to Harvard Business Review, crowdsourcing has ‘become a powerful alternative for driving important decisions.’ Think about Wikipedia, for example. If you can effectively exploit digital technology, you can augment the ‘empathy force’ in your decision, and get immediate feedback from customers and communities.

#5. Share Successes, Failures and Insights

Be forthcoming about your organization’s challenges, and share as often as possible all your successes, failures and insights with sister organizations. The goal is to learn from your own vicissitudes, but also those of partner groups. You can set up formal ‘feedback groups,’ which would, say, meet once a month — or you can establish informal channels to disseminate operational lessons and setbacks. For example, a global group named Anti Heroes organizes periodically so-called Fuckup Nights, where attendees are encouraged to share publicly failure stories in business and social entrepreneurship.

#6. Know the Subtleties — and Importance — of Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is another form of crowdsourcing, with the difference that the former helps you raise cash from the public. What better way to use public empathy to support your social cause than to enlist the monetary help of like-minded people! Platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter enable you to seek funds from the crowd, taking care of all the fundraising logistics during the process.

#7. Give Back to the Community

Engage in as many charitable initiatives as possible — and when possible, give back to your community. Often, social entrepreneurship can seem like a distant, academic pursuit, one that focuses on grander topics such as poverty reduction, environmental protection and famine eradication. Translate those big, visionary ideas into something concrete. Do something in your community. Have your organization participate in a 5K run for cancer research. Distribute food and supplies to the homeless … that kind of stuff.

#8. Address Real-Life Problems

To increase the impact of your social initiative, focus on real-life problems. Choose a project (or two) at a time, and make your contribution as effective as possible. To boost empathy in your organization’s activities, make sure your decisions are S.M.A.R.T. — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, if you care about animal rights, collaborate with your local P.E.T.A. branch to combat cruelty to animals and increase awareness of pets’ rights.

#9. Vary Your Target Audience

Every individual can strengthen his or her empathy muscle, according to renowned psychologist Dr. Deborah Khoshaba. To do so, the individual needs practice. As a social entrepreneur, you can flex your empathy muscle by varying the causes you care about, the organizations you work with, and the campaigns you initiate. Diversifying your operational horizon will affect you, your personnel and your entire organization positively.

#10. Track Your Staff’s Satisfaction Level

To exert empathy outside, you need to cultivate empathy inside…your organization. Through formal surveys and informal get-togethers and feedback sessions, seek information from your personnel. Know what drives them and what does not, understand causes they care about and those they really care about, and find ways to motivate your group. When employees display high levels of work satisfaction, they are productive and more empathetic.

Key Takeaway

Empathy is an essential virtue in life in general, but more so in social entrepreneurship. To augment the impact of your initiatives, learn to understand the power of empathy, learn from your own life experiences, and collaborate with others. It is also important to use crowdsourcing and crowdfunding tools, to share your successes and failures, and to give back to the community. Finally, remember to address real-life challenges, diversify your projects and evaluate your employee’s satisfaction levels periodically.


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Dr. Emad Rahim is an award-winning entrepreneur, educator, author and community leader. He has been invited to be a TEDx Speaker and keynoted at several different university events. He was recognized by the United Nations Foundation as a 2013 Empact100 Honoree for his social entrepreneurship work, received a Congressional Award for his community service and was the recipient of the Forty Under 40 Business Leadership Award sponsored by Syracuse University. His personal story was turned into a short documentary, ‘AGAINST THE ODDS,’ and featured in the Huffington Post and Forbes. He co-authored ‘RESILIENCE: FROM THE KILLING FIELDS TO THE BOARDROOM’ and ‘LEADING THROUGH DIVERSITY: TRANSFORMING MANAGERS INTO EFFECTIVE LEADERS’ and ‘THE 4-TIONS: YOUR GUIDE TO DEVELOPING SUCCESSFUL JOB SEARCH STRATEGIES,’ and is a frequent contributor to Forbes, CEO Magazine, TweakYourBiz and YFS Entrepreneurship Magazine. He currently serves as the Endowed Chair of the Project Management Center of Excellence and Associate Professor in the College of Science and Technology at Bellevue University. He is also a JWMI Fellow at the Jack Welch Management Institute in the Executive MBA program and Visiting Scholar at Rutgers University. http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Emad-Rahim/e/B006HJSWOO

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