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  • Rich Tafel

Justice Begins within the Social Entrepreneur Organization

Before social change organizations can really change the world, many of them will first need to change themselves. We need to invest the effort in creating just organizations that respect and cultivate talent.

Too often social entrepreneur organizations adopt a hero culture, where we take advantage of each other in pursuit of our great cause. I work equally with corporate and nonprofit organizations, and I’ve been stunned by the fact that nonprofit cultures are usually more toxic and unjust than my for-profit clients.

During strategic planning with these nonprofits, I’ll ask, “What’s the biggest barrier to your success?” More times than not they respond, “Our organization.”

The unspoken, but very clear social entrepreneur narrative goes like this: “Because we are good and our mission is noble, I can ask you to work long hours, pay you badly, and ask you to sacrifice more for the cause. So suck it up.”

Through these actions the nonprofit sector is saying is: “We need to be unjust to bring more justice into the world.”

Many young people who are growing out of their post college years at a nonprofit aren’t just disappointed at their experience with social change—they’re bitter. It’s no wonder that more and more of them are telling me they’d prefer to find for-profit social entrepreneur companies than to pursue work at nonprofits.

While more and more social sector organizations are using professional coaches to develop their talent, few invest in the hard work to develop a just organizational culture. But until they invest in developing talent in conjunction with improving the organization, the results will be disappointing.

Social entrepreneurs, who pride themselves on their reputation of being champions for justice, have a difficult time admitting that their own organization is unjust. And it’s rarely in anyone’s interest to call them on it.

But there are nonthreatening ways to do this. The Leadership Circlerecently developed an amazing assessment tool. Its Leadership Circle Cultural Survey offers an “MRI of leadership culture,” and I would argue that it is one of the best tools to gauge the health of an organization. Though it is primarily corporations that use it, it can provide a powerful tool for the social entrepreneur sector as well. Basically, it graphs where the organization’s leadership thinks the organization’s culture is, compared to where employees and board members think it is. The gap presents a nonjudgmental starting point for an organizational strategy plan.

It’s next to impossible to make the world a more just place while your own world or organization is unjust. All true world-changing organizations must have a written strategic plan that supports both personal leadership development and improvement to the organization’s leadership culture.

The social entrepreneur sector must better itself before it can better the world.

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