From Nonprofit Leader to Social Entrepreneur: Creating an Organization That Scores Goals
So there’s this awesome job, the sort of job you’d just die to land (and tell your friends about)! But the awesome job isn’t nearly like the job you have now. So how do you make it from current job to awesome job?
In our podcast series, we’re hoping to provide insights and answers to that very question. We talk to young people who have amazing jobs or are doing something really cool and interesting and ask them how they did it. So listen along for good information and some inspiration, too.
If you’ve ever thought about social entrepreneurship, starting your own nonprofit or international development organization, you’re going to want to connect with today’s guest.
Saul Garlick is the founder and CEO of ThinkImpact, a global social enterprise that hosts the Innovation Institute, a summer program for US students to live and work in rural Africa to end poverty through market-based solutions. Saul serves on the board of several organizations, including Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, the University of the Pacific’s Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Opportunity Collaboration and IonPoverty. He was also recently placed in the Top 9 Young Foreign Policy Leaders Under 33 by the Diplomatic Courier.
Saul actually started ThinkImpact as a nonprofit when he was just in high school. After visiting a rural school in South Africa with no classroom buildings, Saul was moved to action and began raising funds for a building where the kids could learn. “I saw a problem and I wanted to do the first thing that came to mind to alleviate that problem. The next 10 years of my life really ended up becoming about understanding the problem and finding a better way to solve problems,” Saul said in the interview.
We talked about the steps he took to build his nonprofit and the decision to pivot and structure his organization as a for-profit business.
Follow leads, don’t search for mentors
As you’ll be able to hear in the interview, Saul has spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on issues related to social entrepreneurship and international development. One of the most striking parts of the interview was when we got to talking about mentors. Saul spoke about learning from a lot of people along the way, but thinks it is a mistake to focus on finding an exclusive mentor too early in your career.
“So I would actually not recommend looking for a mentor, which I know maybe sounds a little shocking. But what you might make the mistake of doing is meeting somebody and thinking they have all the answers and then trying to hook your wagon onto their way of doing things too early. And then you might be disappointed by that person because they’re not providing the sort of mentorship you were planning for,” he said.
“What I did is just asked a lot of people what they thought of my idea and what they recommended I do next. … So I think getting a lot of competing views early on and taking them in, and being real honest with yourself about what people are saying about your idea and what your next action should be. And then prioritizing and … following leads, that’s really what it was.”
Another interesting thing about Saul: since leaving college, he’s never actually worked for a larger organization. He has always made a living by building his vision, and we talked about working for yourself right out of school.
The single sentence rule
His advice for people who want to get into social entrepreneurship?
“You have to be willing to put in the time. Commit for more than a year,” he said. “This stuff doesn’t get built quickly and everything takes longer than you think. So be willing to persevere, just commit to doing something for a while. Take your idea and find a way to sum it up in a sentence. If it’s not a sentence-long idea, it’s too complicated. … So an open mind, a willingness to persevere, the focus of a single sentence idea, those things will really set an entrepreneur on the right path.”
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