Activists as Entrepreneurs: Boot Strapping to Fund Raising

Activists are pejoratively called ‘professional dissenters’, who do not create ‘value’ by the business community at large. In fact, to invert the lens, they are intellectual entrepreneurs who are bringing their thoughts to life. An idea is undergirded by tangible resources to last a while. Activists are traditional organizations in a very corporate sense. The bottom line lies somewhere else, only the quarterly reporting format differs. Ask any fundraising manager for a non-profit the reality and he would be speaking the same lexicon as a corporate manager. Boot-strapping for scaling is the forte of an activist, working on scant resources, long before the term became cool in contemporary literature. Hiring the correct talent becomes as headache as cash is often in short supply unless it is an INGO such as the International Rescue Committee which can hire David Miliband as its CEO. There is no Series A Funding round for an activist, as the funding rounds are perennial.

All social movements need resources and are limited by the same variables which start-ups are limited. Non-profits need war rooms to coordinate efforts for large scale projects. ‘Blitz scaling’ as coined by Venture Capitalist Reid Hoffmann (HBR April 2016) is performed out by mobilizing the common spirit of the times. #FeeltheBern or the Sanders presidential campaign is classic example of reaching out to small donors and scaling a movement. A performing social movement like a political campaign for elected office, serves a purpose. Activism such as selling a product is also selling an idea. The idea becomes the basis of the product cycle. The campaign for the food security legislation in India took decades to be written in to law, but the ground work intellectually started many years back by activists such as Aruna Roy, Jean Dreaze and Amartya Sen.

Activism needs the same skill set as an entrepreneur as the buy in is needed. The product being a normative idea makes it a very challenging sell in comparison to a FMCG product. Let us have the humility and listen to these struggles as lessons to learn.


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