Today’s post is a guest post from Matthew Alberto. Matthew works for the UN and would like to share his perspective on being a Social Entrepreneur in Bangladesh.
Social entrepreneurship is a fine vocation for anyone daring to follow its path. When you start out, however, you may be wondering what it’s like living a life working for a social concern. You may be keen to seek ideas and experiences from others in the world who are out there, ‘in the field’.
Thanks to Michael, today I’d like to give you that inspiration of what it’s like to actually go out of your comfort zone.
I’m an Australian myself. I was born in the Philippines though, but I lived and grew up in Australia since I was 4 years old. Our family moved to escape poverty, and so we had to start up our lives again in Australia. I have known what it means to be poor and to start with nothing. Perhaps that’s what has inspired me to be a social entrepreneur – to want to help other people, especially those in developing countries.
Since 2009, I’ve been working in two refugee camps on the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar, seeking to find solutions to overcome the malnutrition and food problems of the refugees who had fled Myanmar due to persecution. It may sound like an overburdening job, and I must admit, that sometimes it truly is.
Nevertheless, I followed my passion, which is to ultimately serve others.
And now that I’m here in my unique situation in Bangladesh, I’d like to offer some lessons that I’ve learned during my time as a social leader.
1. Be Idealistic
One of the most valuable traits of social entrepreneurs is their idealism. Social entrepreneurs hold onto an ideal for creating a better world. This is certainly powerful because your ideal vision for the future is what can motivate you. Certainly, social entrepreneurs are known for their unique passion and enthusiasm, and I believe that this drive comes from the clear and ideal vision.
From my experience, I was actually working in Sydney, Australia before I decided to come to Bangladesh. I had external security and external comfort there but ongoingly I felt an internal discomfort. Personally, I have a vision of improving the lives of others, especially the most disadvantaged in our world. For me, I felt limited in my scope and influence by staying in Sydney. My idealism pushed me forward, to try something completely different, in order to align my actions and life to my ideals.
Now, I feel more and more in line with my inner values and vision as I work in the refugee camps, for something I believe in. I also encourage you to nurture your ideals and idealism.
2. Be Pragmatic
Having worked here for almost 2 years now, I also believe that ideals are not enough. I arrived with the belief that we could radically improve the refugee situation, and in an instant. Now, I believe that it’s highly important for social entrepreneurs to be both idealistic and pragmatic.
Goal-setting is essential. Figure out concrete action steps that you can take to accomplish your achievable and measurable goals, including goals for social impact.
3. Be Innovative
One of the major problems with long-term social projects is fatigue. Your donors can become fatigued. So can your beneficiaries, and even your staff. I’ve seen some instances of this with a number of organizations who are working on this protracted operation (It’s been running for nearly 20 years now!). This can be a great opportunity, especially for social entrepreneurs to get innovative.
Get focused on your outcomes, and come up with new programmes or activities that can still achieve your outcome, but which have not yet been tried before. For example, one of our outcomes was to increase the diet diversity of the refugee population. Instead of providing them with more food (which could exacerbate the problem of dependency), we decided to encourage them to creatively use the food they already had. We held cooking demonstrations, with the renowned Bangladeshi celebrity chef, Tommy Miah, to demonstrate that there were alternative ways that food could be prepared and cooked.
Encouraging Social Entrepreneurship
There are plenty of other lessons that you’ll learn along our journey of social entrepreneurship. Like Michael, I encourage you to get out there and try it. You might just like it!
Matthew Alberto is currently the Programme Officer of the United Nations World Food Programme on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. He is responsible for improving the self-reliance and food security of over 28,000 refugees who fled Myanmar due to ethnic and religious persecution. He is a Filipino-born Australian citizen, who is also passionate about inspiring social entrepreneurship worldwide, especially for young people, and he writes daily articles at http://matthewalberto.com.