Cultural Competency - a superpower we all need

Cultural Competency - a superpower we all need

We’ve been talking about the characteristics or “super powers'' social innovators and entrepreneurs use to run a common good business. Last week we reviewed how Altruism, Adaptability and Resilience were important internal strengths. Some of you even shared which power they would use to protect or serve others. Thanks for your feedback!

Let’s talk about a few more of the strengths or ”super powers” for the common good.

What are the external awareness skills that are needed?

MARKET AWARENESS - Social innovators constantly scan the marketplace to assess gaps that go unfilled and research ways to meet those needs. Social entrepreneurs not only see the needs, they see the opportunities and test to see what solutions can be designed into a product or service. You don’t have to be a marketing expert, but you do need to know exactly what problems people are experiencing and what features and benefits they will purchase to solve it. It is both a trainable skill that can become a strength over time and with experience.

RESOURCEFULNESS - Social entrepreneurs identify various resources (including non-financial) and invite others to collaborate, bringing together what they have to a cause and an enterprise. I’ve observed that some of the most successful entrepreneurs don’t really use their own resources. However, as a social innovator and entrepreneur, non-financial resources are often just as important. For example, rather than renting a storefront location on Main Street for a startup thrift store, why not partner with local churches that want to be or serve a neighborhood and utilize their facilities to have a pop-up shop. This engages existing resources while testing the product-market fit and may lead to other advantages from both the business and community partnerships.

CULTURAL COMPETENCY - Social innovators seek to learn from those not like them and are willing to step up, step back, or advocate for equity and justice. I’ve found that social innovators are not satisfied with the status quo. They recognize and critically reflect upon personal bias and systematic prejudice that remain embedded and affect people of color or marginalized groups.

Let’s be honest, this can be a difficult conversation and requires true change both at individual and corporate levels. Take me for example, I’m a white male raised by a single mom, in a lower income household in Alabama. How did I become more culturally competent? Let me tell you my story of an event that awoke my awareness of privilege and my indirect benefit over marginalized peoples.

When I graduated from college, my first job was brokering precious metals. I made good money. I then felt a vocational call to use my business skills to serve marginalized communities and went back to school to study community economic development at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. It was on a study-abroad course that I became more culturally aware.

Our professor took us to the Kolar Gold Fields in South India where I heard women embroiderers tell their stories about how extractive mining companies abandoned their operations, especially after India gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. See, once the gold was “mined out,” the British owned mining companies left and unemployment skyrocketed in their rural mono economy. There was no social safety net, nor corporate social responsibility. Husbands migrated to urban centers for work and often did not return or send back money to support their families. This left the women hopeless and cultural norms did not allow them to seek traditional employment. However, women banded together and created a sewing cooperative, and as micro-entrepreneurs they earned fair wages from garment production.

In that moment, it occurred to me that I was part of a system that had adversely impacted the lives of people of the Kolar Gold Fields. It was possible that the very gold that I had sold could have been sourced from there. While I was not directly involved, I was indirectly responsible for the outcomes of the economic systems and a marketplace that perpetuates such economic injustice and systems of poverty. This realization was transformative for me and helped me become more culturally aware of people's history and my privilege. It was a mindset and set of skills that I carried with me in my 20-year career as a mission lender and grant officer to marginalized peoples and communities. I now support fair trade brands that source from women like this in southeast Asia.

Please join me as we work towards eradicating poverty by using our strengths and “super powers” for the common good. Check out this checklist and see which of the strengths are needed.


P.S. We are so excited to announce our new Social Enterprise Labs Cohort: an intensive 14-week training program with live discussions and the support of social entrepreneurs. Join our Open House discussion on April 5th. Register here or watch the recording (post event).