In Praise of Entrepreneurs

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Having just returned from the World Entrepreneurship Forum, there was no shortage of things to worry about before I left and as I traveled, from the mundane to the ridiculous:

Was my inbox sufficiently cleaned out so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed upon my return? (The answer, apparently, no.) Would I get a seat on the plane with no one next to me? (Ha!) Did I need to worry about Ebola, meeting with people from all over the world as I would be? (Again, no.) Would ISIS target this western event? (Hey, who ever said fear was rational?)

Indeed, fear, a wise man once told me, is nothing but a False Event Appearing Real. None of my made-up worries came true (except, of course, the email inbox issue.) But the point is bigger: Yes, this is a sometimes seemingly senseless world, and yes, bad things happen. As I write this today, I am dressed in a dark suit, getting ready to attend the funeral of my friend Arnie. Arnie was the sweetest fellow, an entrepreneur, a great family man and a person who got a terminal illness far too young in life. God bless him.

Death is, of course, part of life, and the best way we can honor those whose lives are more challenging than ours is to do our best to make our world a better place, to create something of value. That is true whether it is your own business, your family and community, or whether it’s the environmental problem your social enterprise seeks to heal or even something bigger.

I love attending the annual World Entrepreneurship Forum for a multitude of reasons, including the propensity of my Australian friend Colin to enjoy beer, no matter the occasion and the ability of our French friends to always be fabulous hosts. But truly, when meeting with entrepreneurs from around the world, what I love most is the can-do optimism on display wherever you look.

Example: My new hero is Evanna Hu. Evanna speaks five languages, attended the University of Chicago where she helped start the Microfinance Initiative and then, upon graduation moved to Nairobi, Kenya, to start and run her mobile enterprise technology business, g.Maarifa. “Let’s just say that my parents weren’t thrilled when I called and told them I was staying in Nairobi,” Evanna deadpanned.

The problem Evanna saw was that people in the developing world have a hard time accessing the potentials of the Internet because access to computers is still not easy to come by. But what they do have are mobile phones and so “we develop customizable and interactive platforms that increase access to educational and training content via mobile phones.”

Last I saw Evanna, she was getting ready to catch a plane to her new home – Kandahar, Afghanistan (yes, Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban), where she continues her work and business, only now behind a burka.

Yes, entrepreneurs are a different breed.

It is fairly easy to destroy things – to blow up a church or synagogue or mosque or bridge or building or bus or person. What is far harder and takes real imagination is to see a problem and decide you have the ability, nay, the responsibility, to fix it. What was it Nobel Peace prizewinner Malala said: “The Taliban can shoot my body, but they cannot shoot my dreams.”

That is the value of the entrepreneur in today’s crazy, mixed-up world. There are those who want to hold us all back, take us back, kill the dreams, enslave minds, enslave women, thwart opportunity. And then there are those who want to create something – whether that be a business, a social enterprise, prosperity, wealth, social justice, communication, peace, clean water or simply a second location. It matters not. Creating beats destroying and is tougher work.

And so for our friends like Arnie and our champions like Evanna and Malala, let’s be brave, put fear in its place and remember why we do what we do. Let others be the destroyers. We are the creators.