Last week, I completed a class for small businesses, called Co.Starters. Classes took place in the beautiful James J. Hill Library in downtown St. Paul. The class was small enough to create the feeling of community, synergy, and collaboration – yet each student was moving at their own pace toward fulfilling a personal dream.
The class was diverse, made up of people from all walks of life, experiences, and interests. The diversity of people and business ideas was the most engaging and fascinating aspect of it. But there was so much more to it. I walked away with new skills, but also a brand new perspective.
At first, I felt a bit like the oddball in the group. Each week I would practice my pitch around my desire to market my skills teaching and coaching other citizens about democracy, civic education, active citizenship and governing for the common good. Meanwhile, my classmates spoke about developing creative products and services that I thought were more straightforward and understandable than mine.
By the end of the class, however, I could see that each of us had created an idea that had something in common. Each of us had the kernel of an idea that would, in some way, contribute to the common good. It was tremendously heartening to see how many of my classmates came to their business idea from a heart-based or altruistic place. Their businesses were about creating a more caring, knowledgeable, enjoyable, or just world in one way or another.
A New Perspective Emerges
Looking back at my youth, I had created a false narrative around the idea of being in business. I saw most people in business as greedy, selfish, or willing to exploit the earth’s resources for their own gain. Now, I see small businesses as being key to addressing many of humankind’s most perplexing, complex, and challenging problems. Small businesses are often more nimble, responsive and in some cases, more audacious, than larger, “set-in-their-ways” institutions. In fact, many entrepreneurs are moving forward so quickly, that they are leaving policymakers and government agencies behind.
I am thinking now of the young business owners across the globe that are sparking huge innovations in energy, food production, housing, recycling, etc. We need them. We need them badly. Society needs to nurture and support entrepreneurs who want not only to make a living, but also to co-create a community that all of us want to live in.
In addition to creating innovative and sustainable products and services, they also have an opportunity to master the art of integrating democratic decision-making into their organizations at the early stages of their ventures. A good first step is to develop civic leadership and active citizenship skills inside a new organization. When employees have a voice, a higher purpose, and an ability to help their employers problem-solve during challenging times. business has more of a chance to succeed for the long-haul.
Here’s to creativity, innovation, audacious dreams and the desire to contribute! I applaud the amazing skills, ideas, talents, commitment and good hearts of my fellow Co.Starters alumni. Each is on their way to creating a better world.