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Driving social entrepreneurship and innovation

November 23, 2012

Last month, I wrote about the need to establish a culture of social entrepreneurship and social innovation in Baltimore. I was wrong; I misdiagnosed the problem. A culture and community focused on social entrepreneurship, social enterprise and social innovation already exists in Baltimore, and it’s growing; what’s lacking is a supportive ecosystem to nurture and catalyze this emerging community and culture.

Cultivating a strong, responsive ecosystem is tough to do; it’s something the Baltimore tech scene continues to struggle with, and the social entrepreneurship/innovation community is years behind our friends in tech. I’ve thought about this quite a bit since the Mid-Atlantic Social Enterprise Summit and in subsequent discussions with smart thinkers, entrepreneurs and funders.

Perhaps Baltimore trails the likes of San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, or Washington D.C., but we’re on to something. We’re desperate for new, effective and efficient solutions to doggedly persistent social problems, and ripe for sustainable businesses that create jobs with good wages and benefits, and generate value for the community.

Baltimore has no shortage of talent to pull this off. But what I see now is too much disconnection, largely between talent and resources (doers and funders), though many other disconnects exist as well. I see too many prospective door-openers acting as gate-keepers, too many burgeoning leaders and game-changers unrecognized and without resources and support. I see the city I love continue to do the same things culminating in the same poor results, the definition of insanity.

I once overheard a well-respected foundation leader admit, “We’ve discussed this problem for nearly 30 years and little has changed,” and thinking to myself, “Well, maybe, it’s time to change course.” But I kept the thought to myself, afraid that the remarks of a twenty-something would be quickly dismissed.

An ecosystem supporting social innovators and social entrepreneurs won’t happen overnight in Baltimore, nor will it happen until we simultaneously value the wisdom and experience of grizzled veterans while welcoming and encouraging new thinking.

Baltimore has all of the pieces of the puzzle to rethink our approach to social services and business; now we need to begin putting them together, which is the difficult part.

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