Top 5 Tips for Social Entrepreneurs from Van Jones

November 4, 2015 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

22570457552_c5d63523d5_oThanks to Portland State’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, we recently had the honor of co-hosting Van Jones for a student seminar, dinner and keynote at Portland State University. With experience as a serial social entrepreneur, social justice leader, NY Times best-selling author, CNN commentator and former Green Jobs advisor to President Obama, he has positively impacted millions of lives and changed social and political systems through his work.

In his student seminar, Van Jones addressed the intimate group as a friend. “You all seem kind of weird,” he said. “I feel right at home.” Jones responded to questions and quandaries that ranged from fundraising advice to pedagogical theory, the whole time speaking from the heart. It was an inspiring afternoon with a lot of laughs and even a few tears.

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“You can’t learn to swim [from a lecture.] You have to get in the pool.” Van Jones, Portland State University, October, 2015

Here are the top 5 social entrepreneurship tips we got from his talk:

  1. Do Something: Making a difference is harder than you think, but not as complicated as it seems. The way to make a difference is to do something. If you want to do something big, start small. If you start too big you will get paralyzed by it. For example: If you want to revolutionize education, start by teaching five kids something you know how to do.
  2. Salute Setbacks: Once you start doing something, if you do it long enough you will make a lot of mistakes. Everyone does, but you only ever hear about the successes. You will learn the most from the stuff that doesn’t work. Successes are important, but setbacks build character. Keep doing it over and over and you start to get results, staff and money. The next time around it will be easier.
  3. Get Out of the PC Thing: You can never be politically correct (PC) enough. No matter how much you are doing, people will attack you for what you don’t do. Focus on doing. If you try to do everything and help everybody, you will get paralyzed.
  4. Don’t Impress Yourself out of a Mentor. Competition is not the biggest motivator for people. Our strongest impulse is to nurture. Sometimes when seeking help, social entrepreneurs impress themselves out of a mentor. If you make yourself sound too successful or prepared, your potential mentor may not think you need their help. Share your successes, but also be willing to share your struggles. When someone helps you, they will want to keep helping you…for life.
  5. Know What Funders Want: You will need money. Other people have it. You need to know what they are looking for so they will give it to you. Funders are trying to identify three things: 1. That the problem is worth their time; 2. That your solution is plausible; 3. That you are the best person/team/organization to solve it.

Final thought: Our education system has taught us to be deconstructionists. We have become experts at breaking things apart and criticizing everything and everyone. We have forgotten how to bring people together to create and initiate solutions. We have to change this. Social entrepreneurship done correctly is about reconstructing, but we have to be willing to let all kinds of people in, find common ground and build together.

Do some of these ideas sound familiar? Helpful? What are your top 5 social entrepreneurship tips?

Check out more photos from our visit with Van Jones on our Facebook page: http://www.Facebook.com/PSUImpactEntrepreneurs

Check out Van Jones’ keynote from later that evening.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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