BFP: What do you do?
MB: As Director of the School for Social Enterpreneurs Ontario (SSEO), I am responsible for overall management of the School, which is dedicated to supporting and developing social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs and their respective ventures. A big part of the job is mobilizing the business community to contribute its tremendous technical skills and commercial experience to students’ triple bottom line initiatives.
BFP: What is the best part about your job/project?
MB: For sure, it’s that I get to be involved in so many different social and environmental change projects all at one time. For each cohort of fellows at SSEO, we have twenty students representing twenty big dreams.
I love reviewing applications to our programs—it’s like being at a fantasy dessert buffet where it’s ok to pile your plate high with all the tasty treats that catch your eye. We’ve had students working on everything from increasing access to legal justice, to reducing carbon emissions, to creating a dating website for people living with a disability.
The range of issues is vast, but the students are all united by a common passion to stand up for something they believe in and to make terrific personal sacrifices to create the change they envision.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
MB: SSEO helps people take an idea to reality, so we inherently deal with a lot of start-ups.
The thing is, SSEO itself is a start-up. Although the School for Social Entrepreneurs, founded in London, has been around since 1997, SSEO launched in Canada only in the summer of 2012. As such, we are going through all the same start-up growing pains as everyone else.
Working here is like traveling through a maze in a house of mirrors. I often help students on problems and see SSEO’s reflection staring back at me. Naturally, I find it much easier to see potential solutions to the student’s problem, because I’m looking at it from an objective point of view. But when it comes to the issues of SSEO itself, the path never seems so simple.
Start-ups are incredibly challenging because you have to do everything for the first time and it’s usually not entirely clear where you’re headed. I try to feel my way through slowly, trusting my instincts, and not getting too flustered when I hit a dead end.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What has been the secret of your success? / What advice can you give others?
MB: The one thing I keep coming back to over and over is the concept of unlearning. In any innovative project, I can’t help but bring all my cultural and social and personal baggage with me on the journey.
The thing is, that baggage is often a barrier to seeing the full range of new possibilities. Unlearning is about bringing a beginner’s mind to the situation, questioning every single assumption about how things need to work.
My three-year-old is a great model for me. He asks questions like why he can’t eat macaroni and cheese for breakfast. The thing is, he’s right. There’s no inherent reason that he can’t; culturally, however, we don’t.
To be innovative, I’ve got to think like a three-year-old and unlearn all the assumptions I bring to the initiatives. I try to do that every day, and SSEO is a place that intrinsically fosters an unlearning environment.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?
MB: Hah! I have no idea how one would replicate the path I took here. It involved so many surprising twists and turns!
If I had any advice, it would be to reject the mentality that you’ve got to check off any particular boxes to be “successful.”
I’ve seen a lot of people get paralyzed about taking a step they really want to take, because society or Dad or someone else tells them they are supposed to be doing something else. I spent the first 20+ years of my life trying to follow the expectations of people around me—they told me they knew what one needed to do to be happy.
Once I finally summoned the courage to strike out on my own, I realized that I had wasted all those years living someone else’s dream. In my experience, happiness is a by-product of listening to the quietest voice in your heart.
BFP: Finally, What do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
MB: I’m thrilled to connect to people who share this vision of a new type of economy, one in which we don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul. The zero-sum economy is so last millennium…
Thank you to Marjorie Brans for taking the time to do this interview.
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