Building Inclusive Entrepreneurial Communities

Building Inclusive Entrepreneurial Communities
This post comes from Kyle J. Smith of KCSourceLink. Kyle recently attended the Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit and shared his thoughts and takeaways. Here’s what he had to say about creating inclusive communities. 

What barriers do marginalized communities face when it comes to entrepreneurship? How do we make sure that all Kansas Citians are included in our journey to becoming America’s most entrepreneurial city? What is inclusion, really? And how do we build it into our communities?

These are just a few of the questions we pondered alongside 200+ practitioners at the Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit in April at the Federal Reserve of Kansas City, hosted by our mothership organization SourceLink.

The Summit covered a wide range of issues affecting rural and urban entrepreneurial communities, and inclusion was an important through line. Before we dive into the meat of the issue, and some actionable takeaways, let’s set the table with a few definitions:

  • Diversity is all the ways in which people differ (age, race, background, class, etc.)

  • Inclusion is building an environment where all feel welcomed and valued.

  • Equity is fair treatment and access to opportunity for all people (while breaking down existing barriers.)

Rodney Sampson, founder of the Opportunity Hub in Atlanta and author of Kingonomics: Twelve Innovative Currencies for Transforming Your Business and Life Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave a rousing presentation on building inclusive entrepreneurial communities. His wisdom made a case for your heart strings and your pocketbook, and his idea were direct and actionable.

Here are a few takeaways inspired by his presentation that you can ruminate on and implement right away:  

Exclusive communities go way back (and way deep). In our society, power was accumulated and systems built by separating the world into “haves” and “have-nots.” Unfortunately, many of these hierarchies were based on skin color or creed instead of human dignity and merit.

How do these facts relate to your inclusions efforts now? Work harder (and slower) knowing the problems you’re trying to solve didn’t start yesterday. And work smarter knowing the issues you’re facing today are as old as mankind.  

Always strive to be culturally responsive. It’s impossible to know the ins and outs of every culture. But it is possible to be aware, respectful and graceful. Pro tip: most situations turn out just fine if you have a friendly smile, start with a handshake and then you listen more than you talk.

Embrace people on their terms. “Hi, my name is. . . What’s yours?” is a great way to start a conversation. Everything that happens between that and exchanging business cards is up to you. Whether you’re trying to make a new friend or impress a strategic partner, follow the Golden Rule. That means giving people enough space to be themselves, without going so far away that they can’t reach you.  

You may not even know . . . the ways your brain is stereotyping and devaluing others. Read about unconscious bias for specifics, and always do your best to get to know the real person, not the census data.

Make room for communities to tinker and explore. Think back to some of your greatest breakthroughs. I’ll bet most of them happened in an environment where you felt safe to flop, challenged to keep pushing and comfortable enough to have fun. This sort of environment is where true innovation happens. And consider . . .

It’s not “If you build it, they will come” . . . it’s “If they build it, they will come.” Kudos to Andy Stoll from the Kauffman Foundation for this gem. And kudos to you for creating opportunities for others to take the reins and lead us all toward a better future.   

We are better, connected. One thing that’s always been true—it’s all about who you know. An entrepreneur is as powerful as their ability to get s#%t done, and that’s a lot easier and more effective when you have a network to call on. By building a diverse team you are building your social capital and others at the same time.  

Don’t leave communities in the Dark Ages. The Internet has changed a lot of things for good, but it can also exacerbate the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” You may be thinking, “I don’t decide where they lay fiber” or “I don’t decide if a school district prioritizes STEM.” And you’re right. But you do vote and pay taxes. Consider making your voice heard for the under-resourced and oppressed.

Bring everyone to the decision-making table.  If you go all the way back to our starting definitions, your goal should be to put together an organizing body in your community that is representatively diverse, held to the standards of inclusion and always striving for equity. This is a never ending process that starts by making a conscious effort to include those who aren’t represented.

How do you continue on the path to equity? Here’s a good step:  

Celebrate and invest in our differences . . . because those are our biggest strengths. Homogeny is blah and weak. Diversity is . . .

  • Vibrant (not boring)

  • Strong (not scattered)

  • Agile (not stuck)

  • Sustainable (not old fashioned)

  • Remarkable (not lazy)

If that’s the sort of community that you want to be a part of, then help make it happen. No well-intentioned good deed is too small. It’s going to take a lot of folks, a lot of time, doing a bunch of little things to change our world for the better.

And remember to enjoy the journey and always make new friends along the way. You have more control over who you journey with than the destination anyway. Plus, your inclusive team will model for everyone else the world you want to live in. That way we can get there better, together.  

How do you support your entrepreneurial community?

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