Waste and the busyness of business

reclaimed cokctailsLooking back, I have been an ‘entrepreneur’ for years.  People have also called me a business woman, leader, mum-preneur (oh, how I hate that word!) and intra-preneur (whatever the hell that is!) but mostly people have called me an entrepreneur and, more recently, a social entrepreneur.

I used to think this title was mainly to do with making money or starting up businesses.  Yet I noticed that it didn’t matter whether I was new to a business idea or place or if I had been in that space for years – people still called me an entrepreneur.  I guess it must be something more than the starting of businesses, it’s a mind-set, it’s written on your face and it’s imprinted into your DNA.

I know now though that being an entrepreneur is nothing to do with making money, being rich or poor, successful or not.  It’s something much more profound, more a way of being.   An entrepreneur sees the gaps between things and makes connections.  Rockefeller and Carnegie reflected long and hard on how they saw society, took an educated guess at where it might be heading and thought that oil and steel might be a good idea.  It wasn’t about their making money…it was about their mind-set and vision.

Social entrepreneurs have eyes to see differently and they’re motivated by things regular entrepreneurs find hard to understand.  They look long and hard at the same problems but in the ‘looking’ and the ‘thinking’ they somehow see something different.  It’s these differences that get me out of bed in the morning and keep me motivated and engaged.

My life is crazy-busy at the moment.  I work ridiculously long hours.  I’m glued to my iPhone and emails.  I regularly travel all over the UK and think nothing of driving 8 hours a day on top of the meetings in my diary.  I have kids and dogs and chickens and a vegetable garden that all need my attention.  But (and this is a really important but) in the middle of all the busyness of my days I discipline myself to take time to look – to really see – and to try to understand where they are and what’s in those gaps.

I have been thinking recently about ‘waste’.  Nothing new there…in my current role we think a lot about food waste.  I hardly ever use that word though because I truly believe that ‘waste’ food is just food which has ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time so that its ultimate purpose (to provide sustenance and nourishment for people) cannot be fulfilled.  I hate the idea of wasting food. I hate just as much the idea of calling food ‘waste’ before we absolutely have to do that.  Most of the time we just have to work harder, to think quicker and brighter and in new ways to make sure that food gets to fulfil its purpose.  That’s what the team at Company Shop does so very well and with such passion and innovation.

But here’s the thought that could fall into the gap.  This week I was in one of our Community Hubs listening to some of our newer members explore a whole range of personal development opportunities.  I hear so many stereotypes of the people and communities where our Community Hubs and Shops are and in that moment I realised that I felt exactly the same dynamic at play then as a do when I hear the words ‘food waste’…there are just so many parallels.

For twenty years, both as a volunteer in my spare time and in my professional career, I have sought to overturn the myth that individuals and communities have gone to waste.  Perhaps there are reasons that they have not been able to fill their purpose.  It’s clearly not as simple as them being in the wrong place at the wrong time…the causes and the consequences of their vulnerabilities are complex and so the social entrepreneur in me looks for the gaps and tries to work out what’s missing from the picture.  Community Shop is all about working that out and working harder, thinking quicker and brighter and in new ways to make sure that people get to fulfil their purpose and value.

Life is busy but it is the chance to spend time with these individuals and communities which inspires me in my entrepreneurial journey…and long may that continue!


About Sarah Dunwell

Sarah Dunwell is executive director of Arena Partners and has twenty years experience in the corporate and business sector. After a number of senior roles in customer service and retail management, Sarah led her own successful catering business and is experienced in business turn around and SME growth. Sarah has a particular interest in the role of robust business planning and development in the not-for-profit sector. Her passion lies in seeing social businesses grow successfully and sustainably through creating mature businesses that deliver strong social agendas.
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