Jan 26, 2012/07:24 PM

Feature Article – Interview with Social Entrepreneur Antonio Aguilera

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“You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

~Buckminster Fuller

 For this month’s feature piece, I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonio Aguilera, a visionary and social entrepreneur engaged in repurposing business to make it just, sustainable, and community oriented. Having grown up in Mexico, he’s been inspired by his parents, both of whom have instilled the value of working hard and serving the community. They used business as a medium to help the community. It was this cultural mindset that attracted Antonio to social enterprise and entrepreneurship.

 

What is social enterprise?

Social Enterprise is based on the idea of using a business model to help others. It is based on the belief that business has power to create impact beyond profit. The three utmost fundamental things needed for human life to be viable and sustainable are the self, the other, and the environment. We need to procure and preserve the 3 for human life to exist. In social enterprise, we are focusing on all 3 aspects at the same time- profit, people, and planet. Profit is designed for taking care of the self. In a sustainable life, we need to take care of ourselves first. It’s hard to take care of others if you don’t first take care of yourself. But, that’s not enough. Then it’s the other, and then the environment. By engaging all three aspects, you are creating a system that is sustainable.

 

What are your current projects in social enterprise?

I am engaged in two projects right now- Crowd4all and uspercent. Crowd4all provides labor solutions for socially responsible online work distributors by engaging socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in a computer game that aggregates and organizes the work online to present it as a fun and paid experience that incentivizes developing skills to succeed in the virtual economy. It is designed to help people who are hard to employ- prisoners, women, domestic violence victims, veterans, people with disabilities, etc. It is a partnership of organizations that are co-creating the solution. It is based on the idea of community sourcing. It is designed to create new solutions for the community and create a platform where people can earn as they learn. It has a revenue model that simultaneously creates impact within the community.

Uspercent uses technology to collaboratively produce the goods and services that the marketplace needs in a way that creates positive impact for all of us.  It is a brand of which everyone knows has a positive impact in the community and the environment. It is also an open source work platform. It is a collaborative business model that can help unemployed people, and build social and environmental capacities. The project is designed to be managed collaboratively. People can contribute wherever there may be. Of the earnings, 30% goes to the organizations that made it as profit, 30% goes to community organizations to serve people, 30% goes to the environment, and 10% becomes revenue. One product at a time, we create a marketplace that is sustainable.

Why do you think it’s valuable and important?

Social enterprise is about the realization that we all need one another. Not one person would have survived when they were a baby if they didn’t have support from others. Our reality is defined by the contributions of others. So the least we can do is balance that contribution by giving back. And it’s such an exciting thing- it’s an opportunity to use our wisdom in the most powerful ways to create an ecosystem that takes care of all of us, because we are that ecosystem. It’s using the power of the marketplace to helping the community and environment. It allows for a sustainable distribution of value. Social Enterprise is about re-purposing, collaborating and bringing people together to do more and better in a sustainable way.

What is the impact that social enterprise and social entrepreneurship has in society?

One of the most amazing things that I see in the next generation of leaders is the ability to think multi-dimensionally. Social enterprise is the ability to look at one value chain and not only look at the financial value, but also the social and environmental value. It is an optimization of value. It considers profit, people, and planet. It is a win-win-win solution, and that is critical and important.


 As a generation that is waking up and inheriting this world, what do you think we need to really create a new order?

There is an ocean of entrepreneurs that are emerging from everywhere. What’s going to work next? We may not need to re-create new, new, new things. We can use the structures we already have. Social entrepreneurship is about re-purposing. It’s about using what we have but in new ways. We have an opportunity to connect the sectors, and that will give us the opportunity to create triple impact. Whoever you are, at whatever level of ability, we want you. Your wisdom and passion will create something great when connected to somebody else’s.  We use what we have and make it better. For that, concretely, we need to learn to work together. We need to go across our generations, industries, sectors, etc. We need to stretch our comfort zones. We need to collaborate and solve problems together because we share these challenges. The best things happen when we make them happen together.

What advice would you give to social entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Start by asking yourself- what’s the value that I’m creating? Your idea is great if it’s creating value. Also ask yourself, is this the best way that I can create this value? It may be that there’s other ways to create the same value or more value. Partner with someone with a similar idea and add to it by collaborating. Contribute to other people’s work. It’s a matter of effort vs. value. How much value are you going to get for your effort? Social Enterprise gives you 3 layers of value- profit, people, and planet- with one level of effort.

What were your challenges in becoming a social entrepreneur?

It’s a question of rhythm. As the marketplace becomes more aware of the value of the work that a social entrepreneur does, the entrepreneur becomes better at doing that work. It is the perception of value element that needs to advance in the same rhythm. We need to make our value clear in the marketplace. The marketplace hasn’t realized the value yet. We need to democratize the marketplace interest. That will give us the tools, resources, expertise, collaborations, etc to be more sustainable. It’s a double-sided equation. The hope is that we can make it work together. There are a lot of unnecessary divisions- sectorial, industrial, generational, cultural. The challenge lies in closing those gaps, and connecting ourselves and others. When we are able to do that, the ideas we want to share, and the things we need become accessible quickly and effectively.

How do you successfully build an audience in social enterprise?

It starts with listening. Having an audience means someone is listening. If you want someone to listen, you need to listen to them first. Pay attention to what people want, and make sure that’s congruent with who you are and what you can give. Being in alignment with who you are and what you do is the opportunity of social enterprise. You come to work, and you bring yourself to work. There’s something in it for you, where you’re creating something positive for you and for your environment. It allows people to be present, as people, and not just as production machines.

How can you make an entrepreneurial project designed to address a social cause, financially sustainable?

There are many layers to that reality. Traditionally, when addressing a social cause, you appeal to others to give you money for your cause. Hence, the term non-profit. The term is weird because it defines you by what you’re not. If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to help people, how do you do it in a way that makes you money? It’s about understanding what you have to offer and how that fits in the marketplace. You can acquire the skills and abilities to become that which you want to offer. Find creative ways to create value. It’s an opportunity to look at what you want to do and how you get to do that. Just follow your passion.

When you’re under the boot, the first thing you want to do is get out, then you figure out what to do next. When people feel oppressed, voices need to be raised. That’s the role that Occupy has been playing. What do we do next? It’s important to have it ready. Where do we go from here? Social Enterprise offers a great baseline for that conversation. It is one of many answers, that needs conversation so it can be adapted in ways that each community benefits from it.

 

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