Spirituality has been indispensable to me as an entrepreneur. Only last week, as I despaired to my mentor of ever finding the funds that we need for the next phase of our growth, I was reminded to ‘hit the prayer button’ to get me through. My mentor is, himself, not a spiritual person but he knows how important it is to me – and how much growth and progress occurs when I get quiet and listen for divine guidance.
Being an entrepreneur, especially a social entrepreneur, means to enter completely uncharted waters. Most other careers have a linear trajectory, a clear beginning and end, defined paths often laid out by others before you – and the promise of professional and financial success if one diligently follows the path. But not so for the entrepreneur.
When I arrived in China in 2003, I had little clear idea of what I was going to do. I had a passion for the transformative impact of theatre on personal and social change, and an interest in women’s issues, but I had no idea how that would take shape. Every day, I would awake and spend the first portion of my day in deep prayer and contemplation, listening for guidance on the next step to follow. These times were inspiring and transformative, a reminder that true leadership is being a servant to an idea much bigger than oneself, and, indeed, a call to action to get ‘self’ out of the way in the service to the vision that was gradually taking shape.
Fast forward 14 years, and by all accounts, the work has been a success. Hua Dan is an established social enterprise in China, with a good track record of delivering impactful projects, with multiple awards and accolades under our belt, and we have worked with over 27,000 people to date. I had thought things would get easier as time went on, that our reputation would serve to smooth the way, that the networks I had built up and the people I had met, would enable us to consolidate and scale more rapidly. Now, as I sit here, poised to develop our model into new markets through the Scheherazade Initiatives, I see that the work has only just begun.
They say entrepreneurs are pioneers, that they see things that others don’t see, that they create products and services that the world doesn’t know they need. A characteristic of my own journey has been restless impatience that things don’t happen as fast as I would like them to – or, indeed, as quickly as they need to change. One of the hardest things I have found to deal with is the slow turning of the wheels from those who are most able to affect change – the foundations, philanthropists and well-meaning individuals who profess to help but then fail to deliver when you most need them to.
I find it extraordinary when my friends in the for-profit world say that one of their biggest challenges is having access to talent. That it’s hard to find good people to do the job. One of the joys of my work is the sheer number and quality of people who cross my path, talented, willing people who give over and above what is called on them in service to our cause. We have had the most phenomenal individuals cross our path at Hua Dan and contribute to making it what it is today. And are also attracting a capable and visionary team to work with us on the growth of Scheherazade. It is such a testament to the fact that, in fact, there are many talented people out there, who long to be fully engaged with creative, meaningful work.
At times like that, I find I have to cling even closer to the rock, the clear sense of vision in the face of shifting waters. To know that the work is even bigger than the people involved – including me. To remember that we are all able to listen to the ‘still, small voice’ that guides our individual journeys – and to be grateful that our paths have crossed in the first place, and to accept the blessing of each encounter. To not outline too rigidly the part that someone is playing in the vision, and to negate all sense of personal responsibility of those who share your vision. To know that each individual plays their part in the story. And that we just have to keep listening for the next steps on our journey.