How Meditation Can Improve Your Social Entrepreneurship

The School for the Future's ongoing 6 week pilot course, Virtue and Value, is built to train you in both the entrepreneurship skills and the self-transformation skills to make you as effective as possible in getting your company off the ground. The course participants have already made significant progress on their ventures (more details on the results of the pilot when it ends in a few weeks).

Part of this progress has been due to the meditation practices we've been doing together. So I thought it appropriate to share the practices we've been doing, how they fit into building successful social ventures, and our current hypotheses about why they're helpful.

Each week during the course we pair a specific meditation practice with a specific entrepreneurship technique. Participants practice these meditations daily while also studying and putting into immediate practice the entrepreneurship techniques they learn.

The first practice, mindfulness of breathing, is a foundational technique for increasing your ability to focus on what's happening right now and gradually develop the ability to concentrate on whatever you want, whenever you want, without getting distracted. We use this practice to uncover the deep values and intentions motivating you to start your social venture in the first place.

The second practice, loving-kindness, develops the aspiration to be of benefit to yourself and others. You already have loving-kindness to some degree, otherwise you wouldn't be a social entrepreneur, but most people don't know that it's a skill that can be developed infinitely. The stronger it is, the better foundation you have to treat yourself and others in exactly the ways you and they actually need. We use this as a healthy platform to assess our weaknesses and usual obstacles to accomplishing our goals, and set up means to proactively address them.

The third practice is mindfulness of sensations. This gives you the capacity to be aware with ever more clarity and subtlety all the various things happening in your body, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, and how they affect your behavior moment by moment. The more you cultivate this skill the faster you can catch yourself before reacting poorly in stressful situations and the better you can cultivate positive qualities and behaviors all the time. We pair this practice with taking an inventory of the resources you have nearby that enable you to take the next low-risk steps to building your product or service.

The fourth practice trains you to specifically notice how other people impact you and how you impact them. You apply your new mindfulness skills to the reactions you have to others and to their responses to you. Over time, this trains your ability to understand people and meet their needs. On the entrepreneurship skills side, we pair this with inquiring into customer's needs to find out what problems they are actually trying to solve and how you can help solve them, rather than offering them a product or service that isn't helpful.

The fifth practice is gratitude. In some ways, being alive today is better than at any other time in history. Many of us have the tools and social support to start new enterprises to positively impact our communities. A couple decades ago "social entrepreneurship" wasn't even a thing. We have more resources available to us for social and self-transformation than ever before, and we're building on shoulders of ethical and entrepreneurial giants that came before. Using gratitude as the foundation you'll take a look at your competitors' products to get a clearer picture of how your customers are already solving the problem you're trying to help them solve. Then you'll examine your own product and and how you might be able to help them solve their problem better than anyone else.

The sixth practice trains you to recognize the spontaneous, natural awareness that is the basis of all of your experiences. Gradually, by paying attention to this over and over again, your positive qualities begin to bloom on their own while your negative qualities gradually weaken. Eventually this practice leads to becoming incredibly caring, free, and authentic. Social entrepreneurship is a long game; actually, it's an infinite game. It's important to find a motivation that will last forever, no matter what obstacles you face, along with the wellbeing to sustains you through these obstacles. Cultivating your recognition of your spontaneous awareness helps to develop exactly those qualities.

These results of the practices are just the most simple and immediately relevant to social entrepreneurs. We look forward to working together to deepen and clarify our understanding of how meditation can productively interface with social innovation generally. As you take all of these practices further, they tend to make you much more flexible, insightful, kind, clear, effective, honest, passionate, authentic, and spontaneous human being. These qualities give you the capacity to work hard, sustainably, on a project that deeply impacts the communities you care about, as effectively as possible, in a way that inspires others to help.

The Virtue and Value course gives a broad introduction to skills you can practice immediately to give your social venture a better chance of succeeding. We're launching another round of the course in the coming weeks and will announce how to sign up once the current course has ended.

Zach Schlosser