Social Entrepreneurs Dream in the Active Tense

The pluck and passion of a social justice career is showing up. When you and I double down on our beliefs, commit to a social innovation, take action against injustice, volunteer, campaign, fundraise, march, picket or petition, we are trusting ourselves to figure out what comes next. We are also making a commitment (to ourselves) to get started, to stay involved, to not quit.

Never once did I see passion coming before it arrived in my life. Never once did I go looking for it. I can tell you that my satisfactions as a changemaker did not come from pursuing some grandly-worded, grandiose mission statement.

Social entrepreneurs rarely know, unequivocally, what we are doing. The absence of structure and scaffolding is part of the excitement of the journey. We take comfort and draw strength from remembering that, since the beginning of history, every explorer and mapmaker, every inventor, every statesmen, every changemaker and every social justice advocate, has operated in uncharted territory.

In no small measure, the essence of a social entrepreneur’ career is a commitment to the struggle ahead even before we have an inkling of what’s going to come at us. Claiming passion about a particular variety of social entrepreneurship, about a particular issue or problem, about a particular community or population, requires that you and I put our passionate words into practice or, in the parlance, to take a risk.

In effect, we activate or, if you like, find our passion by making ourselves useful in the great causes of our time. For social entrepreneurs, our accountability centers on the larger public purposes of social, racial, gender, environmental and economic justice.

Our passion for social justice work is framed by our communal inheritance. By accident of birth, we Americans enjoy the benefits of living in a country gobbling up the world’s natural resources. We luxuriate in the riches from industries we did not build, wars we did not win and political freedoms we have not earned. “We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result,” noted crusading American journalist Edward R. Murrow. There is something obscene, and selfish, and ignorant, about the entitled person who declines to pay down the social debt bequeathed to each of us by our ancestors.

Social entrepreneurs dream in the active tense. For social entrepreneurs, passion propels action. Otherwise, what’s the point? Our origin stories – narrated with a tinge of bragging pride – explain, justify and inspire our good deeds. Our passion plays are performed to move us from apathy to action, from ennui to inspiration, from dilettante to dynamic change agent.

You and I don’t need a first-class miracle to qualify as passionate about justice. Social entrepreneurs understand, intuitively, that life-changing work is what we are doing today, every day, right now. Sure, social entrepreneurship careers have pauses and inflection points, red lights and green lights, but fundamentally there is no beginning and no ending – and no waiting to find our passion. “As you get up in the morning, as you make decisions, as you spend money, make friends, make commitments, you are creating a piece of art called your life. Wisdom comes not from anticipation, but from action. And that’s true whether we’re tackling issues that affect the whole world or just our neighborhoods,” notes Mary Catherine Bateson in Composing a Life Story. Boom.

I have yet to meet a change agent making change in absentia. Like watching a magnificent ballet, savoring a scrumptious meal or enjoying great sex, some things are best done in person. Social entrepreneurship is one of them.

By Jonathan C. Lewis (Author, The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur – available June, 2017; check out

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