Social Entrepreneurism (Revision)

“The disabled of tomorrow will be those who lack access to technology today,” Terry Wiens 2001

Today was gorgeous and well worth a good wheel along the water front.  Nanaimo’s 50th anniversary World Championship Bathtub race weekend was going on so the water front was very busy.  While enjoying the sun I came across a gentleman using a Batec on his wheelchair and struck up a conversation.  A Batec is a piece of equipment you can attach to your wheelchair and turn it in to a type of three wheel bike run by a rechargeable battery.

Batec2We sat in the sun chatting for a few minutes while he gave me the rundown on the Batec.  This gentleman has only been wheelchair dependent for nine months, a newbie and is really just learning the ropes.  He did have well developed arms and shoulders so we talked a bit about the long term effects of using shoulders as weight bearing joints.  Shoulders weren’t really designed to work as ambulating appendages and this has to be planned for.  He was quite happy to have the ability to use an electric drive to save on the wear and tear of his arms.  What jumped out at me was the idea of improved access to beaches and forest pathways he spoke of.  This tweaked my interest enough to do a bit of research on Batec once I got home.

I was aware of the equipment but had never seen more than a picture of them.  An old friend of mine, Reg McClellan, had made me aware of them.  An Ontario based medical equipment company Reg is involved with started bringing Batec into Canada.  Reg and I were members of the Alberta Wheelchair Sports team over 40 years ago so he keeps me reasonably up to date on what is happening with new wheelchair gear.  He tells me that to this day one of his favourite speaking engagement stories involved the two of us during the 1978 National Games held in Newfoundland.  Since I helped create the experience but am unable to enjoy the luncheon I get current reports on new technological developments in the world of wheelchairs.

Besides the shared interest in wheelchair sports we also have a mutual interest in entrepreneurism.  We went different directions when we left Alberta, Reg to Ontario and me to BC however social media reconnected us about fifteen years ago.  The two of us are definitely not as active in wheelchair sports as we once were but we are still both active in entrepreneurship.  Batec turns out to be an excellent example of what social entrepreneurism can accomplish.

I have been active in the social entrepreneurism movement for many years now.  It was the most obvious transition for me from the non-profit sector to the world of enterprising non-profits and social entrepreneurism sits at the same table.  In the new world of social media you can now collaborate with anyone around the world while enabling product end users to be involved from concept to launch.  The corporate world needs to move the whole concept of enterprising non-profits out of their public relations room and move it into the board room.  This outdated concept of keeping social programming at the “kiddies table” while the adults design what they believe is in my best interest or that compliments my abilities needs to change.

And this is where so many current non-profits are missing the mark.  They have knowledge and expertise that can be of value to any business or level of government.  However they haven’t made that shift in their thinking.  They fail to see the value of their collective knowledge with so many lining up to sit on some “volunteer” committee or going to some potential grant funder “hat in hand” hoping their application has been approved.  That “charity minded” thinking has no place in social entrepreneurship.  You can’t business plan when you are worried about grant funding continually.  Batec is an example of this

With that said, it doesn’t mean they cannot continue as a non-profit entity, something so many of them cling to but if they want to thrive and not just survive they need to step up.  They are position wonderfully in the community to act as “idea generators”, training or even long-distance working centres for their members and any number of other valuable concepts.

This requires some creativity and moving off of the road most travelled.  Too many community non-profits are dependent on government grants for operating funds and fearful of losing funding.  Many traditional non-profits are hesitant or lack the knowledge to take that next step.  What they don’t realize, even though the writing has been on the wall for the past thirty years, is that government grants are drying up.  It is becoming a matter of be inventive or be extinct.

Batec appears to have done that.  The end users of this technology have been active in a “paid” role to help with the design, marketing and financing.  Well done Batec now to find other active social entrepreneurs out there.  Now if someone can only come up with the weight issue (that add-on weighs more than my whole chair) but would still fit in my trunk.  I could then attach it for use at my destination.  The cold sweats begin when I think of lifting a 40 pound piece of equipment on a regular basis but sometimes the trade offs can be worth it…

More to come


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