Entrepreneurship and Just Practice

One of my roommates is an entrepreneur. She recently graduated from massage therapy school and is working on opening her own business in Ann Arbor. She looks at her clients and their needs with a clinician’s eye, but also with compassion and listening. When she works with her clients, it is with the utmost respect, and she has the skills to help them. The services she offers and the license she has to practice her trade is her product. Word of mouth is currently her market. And she has impeccable financial management. Her dream is to be able to bring other people into her business who can work with her, either as fellow massage therapists or as partners in other ways. Her vision is to create a business work environment that is not only healing and beneficial for clients but also for the people who work with her.

Her business is at its baby stages, but her boldness to take this step of faith inspires me, and I’m sure will inspire others within our friend group and community. She’s taking a risk, but it’s a risk well-taken. I appreciated Ernesto Sirolli’s TEDTalk for a number of different reasons, although I don’t have his same passion for building up entrepreneurs. I am optimistic about partnerships with business for ethical and just practice as a person in the social justice “business.” Sirolli provided a few key components of working with entrepreneurs: confidentiality and privacy, as well as passionate service to helping them realize their potential. I think we can learn from that. In part, he is talking about rapport building. Entrepreneurs, or anybody part of a community, want to know, or at least perceive, that they can trust someone. Business people are taught to build rapport quickly, and have skills that help them do that well. When you have a person’s trust, it opens them to listen to you, but as Sirolli emphasized, also allows them to open up to you.

From previous courses talking with other social work students, I am aware of the distrust of businesses. There is truth to the statement that “groups tend to be more immoral than individuals” (see this quote from MLK). When businesses get lost in the bottom line, their practices can easily become corrupt, taking advantage of clients and communities. However, they also have potential for great good.

Last semester in my social theories class, I partnered with a classmate to research a social enterprise Better Shelter and their flatpack refugee shelter. The organization began because of collaboration between a UNHCR design team and IKEA. The product and its design gives provisions that are safer and longer-lasting than the tents normally provided by the UNHCR. While the product does not in and of itself erase the current humanitarian crisis, and there are a number of criticisms that could be volleyed against IKEA, the partnership and the impetus to create it, thousands of refugees undeniably have a “better shelter.” Researching the organization also helped me have a better understanding of the refugee crisis (and my other roommate, who is a law student studying refugee/immigration law and child welfare. As a side note, talking to my roomie, she said that while 9% of US citizens become entrepreneurs, 13% of refugees).

Like other things, change happens. For residents of Delray, sometimes the city wants to build another bridge right over your neighborhood, and that might be a good and necessary thing. But not for everybody. What the Bridging Neighborhoods Program was doing for residents was change management. We know the impact this will have on your community, the course is set, but here is how we are going to honor and respect you in this process. The necessity for groups like BNP is probably the result of high accountability for just action in Detroit. How about that? Good business practice through high citizen accountability. Seems like we’re making some kind of progress. The grief that Delray residents feel is real, and it’s right to feel that with them. I acknowledge and applaud the fact that people are taking time to listen to each other and have compassion. That’s good business, and (more) just practice.

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2 thoughts on “Entrepreneurship and Just Practice

  1. Gabby, great analysis! I enjoyed the story of your friend, the entrepreneur. It’s a little funny, after watching the video I connected Sirolli’s point to working with communities and thought about how his strategy for helping entrepreneurs could be applied to helping communities face social issues. However, it was interesting to see you connect it to the business world! Good luck to your friend, I hope she finds success.

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  2. We need to stay open to partnerships with business. Yes, they are not all bad, but they are also driven by certain values. What is the common ground we can find between those who seek social justice and businesses. There are a lot, I contend. We just need to work to find them.

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