Friday, May 20, 2011

Social Entrepreneurs

Until recently Barry and I viewed Twin Rocks Trading Post as one of those culverts you see under roads and streets. Since we have never taught ourselves the art of saving or the magic of cash flow, like those conduits, everything that comes in goes out. We have long since come to understand that we are essentially a pass through organization. Cash in, cash out is our philosophy, although we also subscribe to the theory that you don’t have to have it to spend it. Isn’t that why God invented checks, loans and credit cards?

Jana, Steve, and Barry Simpson

Several years ago I read about an ingenious man who began mining the larger culverts located in northern California. Apparently, as the run-off flowed through these enormous pipes, the ridges incorporated into their design caused gold suspended in the water to settle out and collect in the channels. The guy made a fortune before everyone else caught on. I have always assumed that, like this exceptionally bright, or extremely lucky, individual, Barry and I would one day discover the gold in our diversion. Although I realize it had been over 20 years and we still have not come up with any nuggets, I remain optimistic. As someone once said, “Gold is not the only thing that glitters.” Barry is confident I just made that up, but I am sure I read it somewhere.

Only recently did I begin to understand that my vision of Twin Rocks Trading Post has been seriously flawed. Although my conservative friends will be aghast at this disclosure, my revelation came while listening to a segment on National Public Radio. During the broadcast, the host mentioned the term, “Social Entrepreneurship.” That was an expression I had not heard before, so I turned up the volume on the car radio and paid closer attention.

As it turns out, social entrepreneurs are individuals who believe they have better, more innovative solutions to society’s most pressing problems and use their entrepreneurial skills to organize and manage ventures to achieve societal change. Rather than leaving those urgent needs to be attended to by others, these progressives find what is not working and create entrepreneurial solutions that have never been tried. While business entrepreneurs focus on making a profit, social entrepreneurs focus on creating social capital.

Although the concept was new to me, I later discovered that Susan B. Anthony, who fought for women’s rights in the United States, and Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, are both considered social entrepreneurs. The term was apparently first noted in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not come into wide use until the 1980s or 1990s. Since Bluff is generally at least 50 years behind the times, it is probably not surprising that I have only recently stumbled onto the topic.

As champions of Southwest art and culture, Barry and I have frequently used trading post resources to promote and support local artists, often with no sense of how we were going to generate a profit. When I unveiled my latest discovery to Barry, he was amazed. “You mean we are actually social activists, and not just poor managers,” he asked. “That’s the way I read it,” I replied, nodding my head and smiling widely. “Who knew!,” he said, utterly impressed with himself. I could see his self-esteem improve as we talked.

Years ago a friend and I sat down with a local business owner to have a frank discussion about what we viewed as a pressing community issue. When my sidekick said to the man, “Well, you understand, you are a businessman,” the fellow jumped straight out of his chair, saying, “A businessman? Well, I have never considered that. I will have to tell my wife. She will certainly be surprised.”

I have often wondered how one could operate a business so many years and not recognize himself as a businessman, but now I fully appreciate his ignorance. I always thought Barry and I were just running a small family enterprise and helping the local folks in the traditional trading post fashion. Imagine my surprise when I realized we are actually social engineers, even though we barely passed algebra. Now we can continue to lose money with a clear conscience. If only our bankers would see it that way.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

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