Why entrepreneurs should solve problems that matter

Walking out of a Starbuck’s this morning, I saw a woman in tears.  Without giving me a chance to say anything to her, she begins crying loudly. “Is there anything I can do?” I asked her.  Through sobs she is telling me her life story, which was tragic.  She was obviously distressed, scared and anxious.  She was staying at the motel next door and unless she pays her bill by 10am, she and her 2 nieces would be kicked out.

I didn’t have any money on me, since I use a Starbuck’s card.  I was on my morning walk with my dog, and was more than a mile from my house.  We talked, I tried to explain I had nothing on me to give her, except the coffee I just bought, and I offered it to her.  She refused.  She needed the money to pay for the hotel room or she would be kicked out.  I made suggestions on who to call in the city, but she said she had done all of the that and couldn’t find help.

I felt sad and helpless.  And I realized I had mixed feelings too. I felt a bit skeptical. My hesitation had nothing to do with her.   My hesitation came from my experience.  I recognized at that moment I had grown hardened to a stranger asking for help.

According to AARP, the Federal Trade Commission reports that the top fraud in 2017 was imposter scams.  And of the reported cases, 19 percent suffered a financial loss.  Though the number of complaints decreased from 2016, the amount of money lost to scams increased, reported at $905 million.

Though millennials are more susceptible to scams, those over 50 are fleeced of more money overall.  The older consumer is more prepared to spot a scam.

“Older consumers are doing a really good job recognizing fraud when they encounter it,” said Monica Vaca, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Consumer Response and Operations.” 

You can check out the front page of the Federal Trade Commission’s website (consumer.ftc.gov) and read about some of the most recent deceptive and unfair practices by imposters:  IRS, Government Agencies, Nanny or caregiver sites, dating sites, and even families pleading for emergency assistance.

But someone who may become homeless asking for money creates another issue.  Last year, the Huffington Post printed an article on this subject:  Is Pope Francis Wrong About Giving to Beggars? Pope Francis said of people who are faced with a beggar, or someone on the street asking for money:

“Giving something to someone in need is always right and it should be done with respect and compassion…”

If I gave money to everyone holding a sign asking for money, I can’t be sure that I am making the same kind of difference as I think I am making when giving to a charitable organization.  Is my planned giving making a better difference than random giving?

I can make another difference, however, and that is as an entrepreneur. Why should entrepreneurs solve problems that matter?  The CEO of Global Giving believes:

Social entrepreneurship can play a big role in experimenting within smaller jurisdictions and communities to demonstrate how to overcome issues like poverty and homelessness.

Living in California, I’ve become aware of the major homeless problem in Los Angeles and San Francisco. California has become the worst state for affordable housing, and thus creating the largest homeless population. There are simply not enough places for low income people to live.

Recently, a FastCompany article introduced a company making tiny houses that could be attached onto buildings and walls for the homeless. Those entrepreneurs who see problems as opportunities can make a difference worldwide in poverty and homelessness.

When I was completing my dissertation in the late 1990s, I referenced a research study on the glass ceiling as an example of denial of existence.  Women in one organization were shown proof that they were paid lower wages than men in the same jobs.  Without any objections, these women still would not admit that there was any form of discrimination in their workplace.  (Theories explain this phenomenon as cognitive dissonance.)

Remove” glass ceiling” from the above and add climate change, racism child abuse, homelessness, poor education, elder neglect, food desert.  The wicked problems are destructive.

Before we can redress significant social problems, we must be willing to acknowledge their existence.  Collaboratively we must be willing to take action to achieve sustainable change.  Entrepreneurs are the group most likely to succeed in bringing about change that we want to see in our society.

Muhammed Yunus once said:

“I was teaching in one of the universities while the country was suffering from a severe famine. People were dying of hunger, and I felt very helpless. As an economist, I had no tool in my tool box to fix that kind of situation. “

So, he created a tool. Look what he went on to accomplish!  He is known as the father of micro-lending!

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