Stop Talking About The Poor

  • “I’m looking at the best models out there for using business to solve social problems.”
  • “This is so hard – I’ve been looking for the right organization to work with for almost a year. I don’t want to waste my time working on something that won’t really make a difference.”
  • “One day, I hope to get involved in ending poverty, so I’m studying as much as I can today.”

These are a few of the things I’ve been told by people in the last month who have e-mailed and called because they are passionate about social entrepreneurship and microfinance.

I hate to be the one to break it to them, but talking with other people about helping the poor does not help the poor. While you are talking, they are still hungry.

If you want to discover the best model for combining business and social problems, the very first thing you should do is start a business to solve social problems, or go work for one – right now. Then you will learn what is really involved in a social enterprise. I can tell you from experience, you will be throwing out almost all the ideas and opinions you have about the matter until you do it yourself.

If you want to find the best organization to work with, go work for any organization that is focused on changing any life besides your own – right now. During the year you have been carefully avoiding wasting your time, you have wasted a year.

If you are studying as much as you can today, you have forgotten that while you are studying the problem, a child has missed her opportunity to go to school, so the cycle of poverty is being extended an entire generation in her family. Why are you studying to work on the problem later? The problem is now – work on it right now, and you will learn more than any book could ever teach you.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk, reflect, or study. But I have noticed there are too many people who are mostly talking, reflecting and studying. Ask yourself now, am I spending more time talking about changing the world than I am actually working on it? If so, I suggest correcting that imbalance – now.

Stop looking for the perfect way to participate. Go do anything for those in extreme poverty, anywhere – not for you, for them. Not a conference – first provide a meal. Not a study – first send money for medicine. Not a meeting – first fund a water well.

Raise money for Grameen Foundation. Volunteer with Women For Women. Buy a scarf from WORN. Fund a Bank of Hope at Esperanza International. Donate services to CitySquare. Start a weekend business that funds microloans.

Stop talking about it, and do it.

About Salah Boukadoum
I am co-founder of Soap Hope, a social venture that sells natural, healthful products online, then invests 100% of profits into anti-poverty programs for women worldwide. My business model is called Good Returns: every dollar that a company distributes to shareholders first spends one year volunteering to solve a world problem, in the form of an interest-free loan to a sustainable social enterprise. Ideas: salahsblog.com TED Talk: salahstalk.com Venture: soaphope.com

8 Responses to Stop Talking About The Poor

  1. thesoapbartender says:

    Hi Salah,

    I’ve always been more of a doer than a talker, so I enjoyed this post immensely! This one, and all the others for that matter. In fact, you’ve inspired me SO much that I’ve been working on a charitable outreach for AWSB. Working, not talking.

    What can I say? Your Good Returns model is simply perfect!

    Thank you for showing us what a company could be…should be.

    Like

    • Salah Boukadoum says:

      That’s everything I could hope for Maggie. It will take many people to make the kind of difference we need in our world. Your work will be a model to the next person, and theirs to the next, and on and on.

      Like

  2. Hi Salah,

    I’ve always been more of a doer than a talker, so I enjoyed this post immensely! This one, and all the others for that matter. In fact, you’ve inspired me SO much that I’ve been working on a similar charitable outreach for AWSB. Working, not talking.

    What can I say? Your Good Returns model is simply perfect!

    Thank you for showing us what a company could be…should be.

    Like

  3. Travis Roberts says:

    Salah,

    You may or may not remember me, I helped you hang artwork for a show at Life In Deep Ellum some 4 or more years ago. I have quietly been observing your posts and comments regarding Soap Hope and other similar endeavors. Life has brought many changes, most of them leading to a major rerouting of what I previously imagined life to be (for me). I now have four kids and am two semesters away from completing my MBA (Dec. 2012). Would enjoy picking your brain about “Good Returns”. I have many ideas and am looking for keys to implementation. Thank you for the Hope found through your example.

    Sincerely,

    Travis Roberts

    Like

  4. Mark Lewis says:

    I understand the point you’re making, that to many people are talking rather than doing, but I don’t agree entirely with your conclusion. Thank goodness for doers, but we need more than doers when those doers are merely doing the same things we’ve been doing all along. The fact is, we’ve been doing the same things, mostly in the same way, for generations…and the problems are worse than ever.

    What’s needed is a new approach, one built on design and that design must reflect the realities of a digital economy that spans and elimiates traditional barriers like geo-political borders, economic and social class and racial dissparity. The vast potential of social entrepreneurship is being tragically dilluted by a lack of understanding as to what really constitutes an entrepreneur in the first place. We see the results of entrepreneurship and think of it in terms of the action that was required, but true entrepreneurs usually spend years in creative isolation, thinking and studying, dreaming about things others don’t identify with because they don’t think the same way.

    The power of THINKING should never be identified with inaction as if thinking perpetuates it. Some things simply NEED to be thought out and thought out long, hard and laboriously. That process can and does take years in some cases and those who engage in this kind of mental discipline need to be encouraged, not discouraged. I’m not saying people can’t participate in changing things with action while being in thought mode, but real, sustainable and innovate change is usually the result of someone doing the hard work…and that’s exactly what it is…work…to delve intellectually into how we can do things differently. Remember…ALL the action that we see in the world in terms of solving social problems has resulted at some point from a thought process.

    However, we need an entirely different kind of thought process…one we’re not yet comfortable or familiar with yet…in order to design entrepreneurial breakthroughs in the social arena that don’t merely mirror our past efforts. The vast majority of what passes fo social entrepreneurship is really philanthropy being done by a business but couched in newer, hipper terms but still following the same pathway. Philanthropic ventures are great and have an important role to play, but philanthropy cannot solve our social problems but merely reduce suffering temporarily. At best it can only be a false panacea, a temporary fix we engage in because we feel helpless to do anything else.

    What we must do to design new solutions that move beyond philanthropy is to create a more powerful weapon, one based on business but rooted in more than the models of the past. We need business models that fundamentally tap into universal human motivators in ways that fuel action that is based neither on benevolence nor genius, for both are in short supply. We need to recognize the changing fundamental nature of capitalism itself, and why the global model that has produced abudance in one place and scarcity in another has to be re-examined, re-designed and ultimately replaced by implementing tens of thousands of experimental entrepreneurial ventures. We are in a transitional age, one where the old ideas of charity, philanthropy, government social programs and great societies is giving way to the notion that for the first time in history, we approach a point where very small infusions of capital and more importantly, changes in how people now think, work and collaborate, may finally be able to make serious inroads into solving our most pressing problems. To achieve this demands that we re-THINK our fundamental baseline assumptions about the poor, their relationship to the global market place of ideas and how the speed and pace of technology has the ability to either compound our problems further or explode new solutions to them.

    Like

    • K_I_R says:

      Mark,
      Salah is humbly asking you to drop off a real meal to a real person in real need on your way to your locavore coffee house in your striped shirt to buy a six dollar latte and stare at a real wall while caressing your real chin so fellow hipsters can walk in and appreciate your real wall staring, chin caressing intellect and collaboratively discuss how horrible this world is because of people that refuse to acknowledge the power of the super thinking creative class.
      Sincerely,
      Commas be Damned.

      Like

  5. Tim Brown says:

    To Mark Lewis……
    I think the whole point of Salah’s article is for those who feel driven to make changes, do so NOW. He doesn’t mean start now instead of finding other long term solutions, but rather start helping right now with tangible actions that stops the bleeding while continuing to figure out what surgery needs to be performed. Handling the immidiate need will shed light on what the long term solution will look like.

    Like

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