Many years ago I had the privilege to work on a community economic development project with Ernesto Sirolli. Lessons from that project and from his book Ripples from the Zambezi: Passion Entrepreneurship and the Rebirth of Local Economies, have long resonated. His lifelong passion for empowering entrepreneurs is inspirational and instructional when considering how we provide aid or assistance to countries or to people in our own communities.
A new generation of entrepreneurs is dying of solitude and our job is to figure out where they are and how to support them. They will appear if they can be assured of confidentiality and privacy and if they know their supporters will be fanatical about finding ways to help them. The supporter’s role is never to initiate or motivate rather, to act as a servant to the entrepreneur’s passion, the Family Doctor of Enterprise, if you will.
There has never been even one successful company started by just one person. You can think of a business enterprise as a three-legged stool: the first leg is your product or service, the second leg is marketing and the third leg is financial management. There has never been an entrepreneur born who could successfully make their product, sell their product and look after the money. Yet, if even one of these legs is not well supported, your stool will topple, your business will fail. That is why the most successful entrepreneurs are those who assemble a team to ensure each of these activities is well managed.
Ernesto’s vision of community economic development employs an Enterprise Facilitator (supported by a Project Management Board and trained volunteers) who meets entrepreneurs in informal settings such as their homes, in coffee shops, in pubs and restaurants and on benches by the waterfront. The Facilitator’s role is to act as the dedicated buddy for entrepreneurs. The first job of the buddy is to shut up and listen. And listen some more. Only when the Facilitator has a good understanding of the entrepreneur’s vision and has been infected by their passion will s/he begin to ask questions like “What do you need? Can you make it? Can you sell it? Can you look after the money?” When gaps in knowledge and ability have been identified, the Facilitator will offer to find people and resources to support the entrepreneur and the other legs of the stool will begin to be assembled. This kind of responsive, person-centred approach to economic development has had striking results in more than 300 communities around the world.
I encourage you to read the book I referenced earlier and to watch Ernesto Sirolli’s TED Talk entitled “Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen!” If you are interested in seeing this vision realized in our community, let me know. I would love to work with you to bring the dreams of local entrepreneurs to life.
“The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people.” -Dr Ernesto Sirolli