The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World. A Q&A.
Social entrepreneur Madeleine Shaw is more than familiar with the concept of “The Greater Good.” She’s co-founded and founded multiple for-profits and nonprofit organizations for over 25 years, all with social impact at their core, including Canadian founding B Corporation Aisle (formerly Lunapads), which has been awarded Best for the World status five times.
Now, she’s releasing The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World in October 2021. Part memoir, the part manifesto of encouragement, and part how-to guide, her new book is an inspiring, practical, and deeply personal look at a growing movement of non-traditional entrepreneurs whose ventures are focused on creating social and environmental change.
I asked Shaw a few questions to go deeper into some of the ideas she presents in the book.
This article was originally written by Sandra Nomoto and published by B The Change.
Can you unpack your BHAG (Beautiful, Healthy, Achievable Generative) concept using an example?
When I posit my reinterpretation of a BHAG in the case of Nestworks – a family-friendly co-working space – as an example, I am looking for outcomes like increased family
attachment, sustainability, and reduced stress. I always imagine a situation where a parent brings their kids to our space with a sense of relief and little-if-any separation anxiety on behalf of the children. We are also in some inspiring conversations about how to include elders in our approach. These are simple, practical, heartwarming outcomes that encourage, rather than challenge, us to bring our best. This is about creating a relatively simple solution to some very basic human needs, not being hairy (whatever that means) or audacious.
You’re a self-identified “teenage rebel activist.” How can social entrepreneurs embody this rebel activism in their ventures?
I believe that social entrepreneurs are inherently rebellious in that they are defying the status quo of business or career paths that may not include sustainability or other impact values as part of their shape. In the book I discuss at length how working with archetypes like the Rebel can be extremely useful in accessing courage, storytelling, and motivating others to join your ‘quest’. Every social venture has an inherent quest inside it: something that we are seeking to resist, dismantle, reimage or heal. Isolating and articulating what that is can be extremely potent as a leadership and motivational tool.
Intuition pops up throughout the book as one of your superpowers. Do you attribute this to a “higher power?” What’s your relationship to spirituality?
I definitely feel like my life’s work is a calling of some sort – from who or what I’m not entirely sure, though! I feel like intuition is like any other language that we can understand with greater or lesser fluency – it should be taught and valued.
I would say that I have learned the most about entrepreneurship from gardening, which is the closest thing to a spiritual practice that I have. Things take their own time to grow, and we as humans – and the natural world that surrounds us – are inherently cyclical. The more that we can seek to work with things rather than dominate or otherwise control them, the more nourishing, healing results I believe we will see.
Economist Kate Raworth posits a concept that I love, where she looks at the growth cycle of a tree and compares it to common expectations around for-profit ventures. Trees have an initial rapid growth phase, followed by a long period of thriving in which the tree is healthy and produces oxygen, however does not grow dramatically. In its final phase, the tree drops seeds in order to reproduce. This growth pattern is mirrored in humans and other animals. The only place in nature where you see consistent, exponential growth is tumors. What if the organizations that we create were more cyclical and organic in their growth? I believe that the obsession with constant growth is unrealistic and potentially harmful.
You say: “emotion is a critical form of intelligence.” How do you suggest people hone or nurture this? Should we normalize more expressions of emotion in the workplace?
I believe that we are taught to be ashamed of emotion, especially grief and sadness. I always say that ‘tears are truth’ and should never be apologized for. On the flip side, there are few things more potent and motivating than joy and enthusiasm, and yet we also temper their value with an insistence on everything being quantifiable. It feels like we are caught up in a set of expectations about so-called ‘professionalism’ that constrain, devalue, and even shame emotion. Given that it’s a form of intelligence, why would we want to restrict access to or respect for it? I feel like by normalizing stereotypically feminine values like emotion, relationship, and intuition – and validating them in all genders – that we will come to a richer and more healed perspective.
Like your inner child meditation, what other types of non-conventional exercises might we consider in the traditional workplace?
One of the main themes of Nestworks, a family-friendly coworking community that I founded, is reimagining work/life balance through a very different approach that seeks to integrate these two previously siloed concepts. Why not have our kids be proximate to us when we work? Childcare could be far more accessible if employers understood it as a prerequisite to creating an efficient, humane, and socially just workplace.
You reference the common media stereotype of entrepreneurs as “disruptors”, and also say that “we have all had enough of disruption”. When in your opinion is it appropriate to disrupt an industry or way of doing business?
Disruption to me implies something violent and unsettling. In some cases, this can be helpful – as in throwing off something oppressive. For example, I would love to see things like white supremacy, extractive capitalism, and patriarchy ‘disrupted’. In today’s business vernacular, however, it has become overused and unhelpful, especially when the real work that needs to be done is things like finding meaningful solutions to address climate change and supporting social justice. These are not ‘disruptive activities, but rather creative tasks that require collaboration, humility, and a desire to re-imagine, repair, and otherwise heal. The reframe along these lines that I suggest in the book, is to ‘move purposefully and nurture things’ rather than ‘move fast and break things’.
You mentioned social entrepreneurs may be called out on their actions, communications, or social privilege. Aside from taking workshops, measuring impact, or donating to causes, how else do you suggest we do the inner work that’s required to tackle this?
The idea that as leaders we may inadvertently create a negative impact when we are seeking to do the opposite is unsettling for sure, however, it needs to be reckoned with. I believe that a very high level of self-awareness and humility is warranted – especially among those of us carrying social privilege – as we try to make the world a better place. Continuous personal interrogation and accountability, and never assume that because you are one of the ‘good guys’ that you are exempt from participating in oppressive power systems is essential. Being receptive to feedback, acting on it, and understanding that this work needs to form part of a lifelong practice as leaders and humans.
The Greater Good is available for pre-order at greatergood.work.
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