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Geoffrey Canada, Inspiring Social Entrepreneur

Ok, we aren’t completely finished with our “official list” of Being Entrepreneurial traits and characteristics.  I’ve got a new one to add to the list today.  On that note, by the way, I really am hoping to get all of you that read this blog (all 75 of you, haha) to post comments on these posts if you have ideas, feedback and examples.  Please help me think through this list of traits; participate in the conversation with additional ideas and examples; let me know where I’m on to something and where I’m off base.  My goal is to make this blog truly interactive and a collective conversation.

Last week we added being “purpose-driven” to our list – even though it sort of drives some of our other traits: passion, motivation and vision – and then I put up the example of TOMS Shoes.  This week, after talking to a colleague of mine about her thoughts on this blog, she made the great suggestion that we add “being curious” to the list.  And, like being purpose-driven, being curious is often what leads to having a particular vision for an entrepreneurial company or initiative.  But, more than just perhaps leading to the initial vision, being inherently curious is often what keeps the entrepreneur behaving and thinking like he/she does every day.  Many of the traits on our list – motivation, drive, risk taking, etc – are exhibited and lived by the entrepreneur every day. And being curious is a solid addition to the list.

Here’s an example of where “being curious” not only led to a particular entrepreneurial vision, but an overall example of an inspiring social entrepreneur.  I’m reading a really interesting book right now about Geoffrey Canada, called “Whatever It Takes” by Paul Tough.   Geoffrey Canada founded the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that “delivers an array of interventions and educational services to parents and students within a 10 square block area of Harlem.  The aim [of the Harlem Children’s Zone] is to eradicate the education/achievement gap between the poorest and the richest social economic groups in the community.”  This apt description comes from a great blog post on both the book and overall topic by Javier Rojas.  And you can learn more about Geoffrey Canada by watching this 60 Minutes piece on the Harlem Children’s Zone.

While the blog post by Mr. Rojas points out how Geoffrey Canada’s story points to many of the traits on our list:  drive, motivation, and innovation.  I couldn’t help but connect our new “being curious” trait to this story as well.  At the beginning of the book, the author talks about what led Canada to come up with the original vision for for the Harlem Children’s Zone.  Around 1999, Canada began reflecting on what was bothering him during his then-current job of running the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families, which operated a handful of programs in upper Manhattan targeted at young people.  “Canada became less and less sure of what his programs really added up to.  Each one was supported by a separate short-term grant, often on a contract from one city agency or another, and in order to keep the money flowing, Canada was required to demonstrate to the foundations and agencies that paid for the programs that certain number of children had participated.  But no one seemed to care whether the programs were actually working.  In fact, no one seemed to have given a whole lot of thought to what, in this context, ‘working’ might really mean.  Canada began to wonder what would happen if he reversed the equation.  Instead of coming up with a menu of well-meaning programs and then trying to figure out what they accomplished and how they fit together, what if he started with outcomes he wanted to achieve and then worked backward from there, changing and tweaking and overhauling the programs until they actually produced the right results?”

Curiosity led to vision, which led to passion and action.


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