Talk is Cheap: The Law of Equal Exchange and Social Entrepreneurship Lessons

For over 100 business cards I’ve given out in Indonesia, only ONE person responds and that’s to ask a technical question for their computer. Similar to what I experience in America and the Philippines, especially in entertainment.

All this “Let’s collaborate!” talk means nothing to me unless we’re signing. But when I finally hear from people MONTHS later asking for help, I say “Sure, I’ll get back to you!” in response and that’s it.

If you begin with talk but don’t follow through, THEN ask for help, I respond with talk!

If you engage with action and follow-through, that’s professional, and I’m a big advocate of that!

Action for action, talk for talk. Serious people only, please, development work helping the global poor doesn’t have any use for know-it-alls projecting their dissatisfaction in unrelated work like fashion onto years of effort from multiple groups for the same cause. A recent conversation I had with a girl told me how efforts in projects making jewelry from recycled material wouldn’t work in a materialistic society like Indonesia. Coming from someone in the fashion industry, that’s expected, but my colleagues have seen the communities in Latin America and East Africa and the proud college kids, hippies, and other individuals wearing them with pride, so someone looks hip and a village uses the money earned from the price of appearing cool to build a new school.

Intelligent and humble people only, please, because interns claiming “You don’t have enough passion” in response to not having enough money (program funding) doesn’t account mean we want bigger paychecks and are in the wrong field. I had an intern talk to me as if I knew nothing–the girl comes from a rich family and is given close to a thousand British pounds a month for her allowance, and works in a museum, her first internship as she’s still in university. I corrected her and told her I’m happy with what I earn but could earn more–my concern was getting program money to continue the projects in place to keep helping people, because who loses when something that’s beneficial ends abruptly before it’s completed its purpose? I’m concerned about helping the people first and foremost, and I don’t think she’s one to talk to me about passion when she’s getting paid by her parents to sit in a museum office all day.

As social entrepreneurs, success is not measured in profit, but in what we give to help improve society, and the need for more money is to continue assisting those in need. We know it’s a tough field and there is a need for healthy cynicism. We have the data, history, societal benefits, and multiple organizations who know that it works, and happier, healthier, people, so we’re not going to stop in the face of criticism or from zero commitment. Critics inspires us to work harder, and those who do nothing but talk when they show interest leave room for serious people who take action.

I’m a man of action, and I see the smiling faces of children, refugees who have rebuilt their lives into community integrating into society, and widows who have taken control of their lives again after losing everything in conflict and natural disasters, I am already wealthier and successful, even as Sallie Mae and the other student loan vultures come after me.

Sure, a social entrepreneur can eventually live a comfortable lifestyle (albeit after learning to live in a Spartan manner), but our ultimate goal is not “Me, me, me” but “We, we, we”. That’s why we work long hours and eat instant noodles often, because we know the real wealth is knowing we’re making a better world every time we make the conscious choice to use whatever personal money we have and redirect it to helping others, and karma comes back for everyone, good and bad.


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