SSEO Has a Joyful Ride in Le Playground

What does it mean to be a leader?
What does it mean to be a great leader?
What does it mean to be a great leader in business?
And what does it mean to be a great leader in the business of social enterprise?

Claire Ross Dunn, Fellow, School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario
Claire Ross Dunn

The School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario’s 2014 Cohort had a chance to explore these interesting ideas for three intense days of work with France’s innovative training company, le playground.
Based in Paris, le playground is the brainchild of cocreators Lourdes Gutierrez and Marco Frediani. They deliver training programs to both individuals and groups in the areas of business development, leadership and changemaking. With these goals, Marco and Lourdes came to Toronto in May 2014 to work with social enterprise leaders of today and tomorrow.
For SSEO’s purposes, a social enterprise is any organization – charity, non-profit, cooperative, or for-profit – whose primary goal is the betterment of society. It makes sense, then, that a social enterprise would need a particular kind of leader: one who is not out for profit first and foremost, but out for something deeper, better, and greater.
There are many companies that develop their enterprise and then, later, set up a Corporate Social Responsibility office to ‘give back.’ And yet, one arm of the company might not know what the other is doing. One mandate might not match the other. Head office’s efforts might boost shareholder dividends, and the CSR office’s efforts might buff up brand image, but much else (people, children, the environment, labour conditions, etc.) may suffer in the process.
Social enterprise proposes something different: that, out of the gate, the whole is carefully conceived and considered, with a measurable and transparent triple bottom line (people, planet and profit). It’s a win-win-win scenario, not just for shareholders, but for everyone.
If the social enterprise business model is about the whole, the person who leads that social enterprise must consider the whole, too.
So what does this mean?
It was this question that SSEO and le playground explored, in a leadership context, over 3 days, with a combination of group discussion, brainstorming, exercises and, yes, fun. Our discoveries were profound, concretizing, and inspiring. We are 20 Fellows, with 20 very different social enterprises in the sectors of health/wellness, the environment, youth, the arts, education, e-commerce, social connectedness/multiculturalism, and charitable/non-profit work. And we are 20 very different people – in age, background, and perspective.
But we share a common purpose: to work not just for ourselves, but for the greater good. During our time with le playground, we all had breakthroughs in the growth of our social enterprises and ourselves. And we learned from each others’ discoveries as well.
I, for example, am a graduate of theatre school back in the 80s. For the last 17 years or so, I have made my living writing and story editing for film and TV. For the last 9 years, I have also run a small charitable initiative called Cuppa Change, where we raise money for international and local development by selling fair trade coffee. Now I am venturing into this foreign land of start-ups and digital platforms. But this weekend, it occurred to me that all these parts of me are connected – and valuable – in my new venture.
I am my business. My values are the values on which I build my venture. I lead it with my whole self: my awareness of the world, my vision of a better future, my behaviour as a leader and therefore a caregiver of not only those who work inside the four walls of my business, but of those who live outside those four walls, too.
I bring not only my head to my business, but also my heart. Yes, I have an ability to write a business plan, do market research, find financing and develop a prototype, but I also have an ability to use my best personal qualities – those of empathy, compassion, and creative expression – to move my business forward, and to move others.
A leader who can marry these qualities of both head and heart can evolve from start-up to full-steam. A leader who can marry these qualities has the courage to be a changemaker now, and in the future.
Albert Einstein said, ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ le playground helped me, and nineteen other SSEO Fellows, make a shift in our consciousness.
Now our job is to move that to action.
SSEO - School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario - 2014 Cohort
School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario – 2014 Cohort; Photo: Seyed M. Tabaie