The Global Progress Foundation held a seminar on socially-committed and democratic entrepreneurs on 20, 21 and 22 February 1998 in Madrid. Felipe González and Fernando Flores spoke at and presided over the seminar.
There were some sixty participants, mostly young people, from a wide range of fields of activity (small-business people, members of cooperatives, help centres for the unemployed, further education and training centres, computer specialists, artists, volunteers, students) and from various different places (Asturias, Andalusia, the Basque Country, Madrid, Extremadura, Castilla-Leon, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia and Chile.
In the left-wing weltanschauung, the notion of entrepreneurship is primarily associated with business activity and linked to right-wing ideology. The aim of the seminar was to break with this traditional view thus opening up new horizons for the Left and to ask a series of questions aimed at enabling these new horizons to be surveyed.
In their answers to these questions, some of the questions and replies being quite novel, the speakers attempted to establish some clear, and at times similarly novel, concepts with the aim of breaking down the existing ideological, psychological and behavioural inertia.
What is a (socially-committed and democratic) entrepreneur?
The need for a breakdown of inertia follows from a stock-taking by the Left as we approach the end of the century. According to the basic premise of the seminar, the Left must stop being a XIXth or even a XXth century movement. We must enter the XXIst century and take on the challenge of redrawing the frontiers delimiting our ideas. Young people wishing to create something new, to launch new projects, young people who are not resigned to a life as bureaucrats and conformists cannot be indifferent to such a premise.
The concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ is one of the touchstones for the Left in its effort to create a new paradigm. On the one hand, an entrepreneur is not just a businessperson. Anyone who has an idea or project is an entrepreneur. Thus, politicians can also be entrepreneurs whose enterprise or undertaking is to develop their country or society. On the other hand, entrepreneurship is not – or should not be, regardless of whether in the past it might have been – the domain of the Right. The enterprising spirit is universal. However, other than in the field of culture, the left has retreated from the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship leaving it to the Right.
In order to effect a change in attitudes we need to alter current conceptions. The aim of an enterprise need not be to make money or to do business. An enterprise, according to the premise of the seminar, can also be to satisfy others whilst doing what one wants to do. You become an entrepreneur because you have an idea or project, because you like what you do. Basically, being an entrepreneur means entering into a commitment with oneself.
Thus, in this sense, undertaking an enterprise is not the exclusive capability of business people or of the Right. Enterprise is a natural ability. It is the natural and independent ability to invent new worlds. Moreover, this is something that can be done with enjoyment. In the words of Fernando Flores, the Left needs to loose its fear of contentment. We need to start enjoying enterprises which fulfill a social need whilst providing satisfaction for ourselves, including in terms of entertainment and happiness.
Ideas for the development of enterprise
Having provided sufficient arguments to show that every human being is capable of enterprise, the seminar suggested some constructive measures to develop entrepreneurship, including one’s own enterprising spirit.
At the root of any enterprise one usually finds some anomaly which engenders social dissatisfaction. Thus, in order to be successful, an entrepreneur needs to posses the requisite sensibility to home in on this anomaly even more than he or she needs to be intelligent, wise, knowledgable or rich. This constitutes the origin of innovation which the entrepreneur translates into a new product or service on offer on the market. However, neither innovation nor supply are merely the result of having ideas. Placing an offer on the market is an act of communication; it is an act requiring meticulous preparation on the part of the entrepreneur in order to seduce the public – customers made of flesh and blood i.e. ordinary citizens – or in other words to make himself or herself relevant to other people. However, it is not goods that are placed on offer but practices.
The timing of the offer – and we should not understand the concept merely in commercial terms but instead should also think of the art offered by Neruda – the policies offered by Lenin or the religious concepts offered by Ignatius Loyola, is decisive. Entrepreneurs invent offers, taking a given thing with whatever shortcomings they have observed and refashioning them anew. In fact, invention and innovation do not consist in creating something new; nobody ever creates anything wholly new. Innovation and creativity exist in a social context whose conventions and practices go back in time; thus the achievement of a creative person lies in inventing new conditions to satisfy needs on the basis of an interpretation of different earlier practices. Such creative people or entrepreneurs see what others do not – be it an anomaly, social dissatisfaction or a fringe activity whose potential is unfulfilled – and take advantage of their freedom to offer their discovery in order to cure this blindness. In fact, innovation and invention consist essentially in cultivating the anomalous and the marginal.
Seen in this light, creativity and entrepreneurship are not difficult but instead rather trivial.
Entrepreneurs, and democratic and socially committed entrepreneurs in particular, must seek perfection and excellence; in order to achieve excellence, one must be seriously dedicated to one’s project (and thus stop being an ‘eternal adolescent’). In practice, this means that entrepreneurs must not only plan their offer meticulously, they must also cultivate the client’s confidence in them, entering into a commitment to fulfill the promises inherent to any offer. Style has an important role to play in this regard in the same manner as the above-mentioned capacity to seduce. Finally, a successful entrepreneur believes that someone will say yes and accept his or her offer.
In order to be successful, entrepreneurs must be imbued with a culture of commitment (the commitment to fulfill the promise contained in the offer) and of client satisfaction. This is true for all types of undertakings, including political ones.
The approach and methodology of the seminar are not ideally suited to the drawing of conclusions in the narrow sense of the term. As was pointed out in the introduction to these notes, the aim of the seminar was to put forward a series of questions and some answers in order to prepare new ways forward with the ultimate aim of promoting progressive – socially-committed and democratic – entrepreneurs.
Nevertheless, it is possible to put forward a number of conclusions without limiting oneself to what was said and heard at the seminar, and how better to do this than to quote the conclusions proposed by Felipe González in one of his talks during the seminar:
- The ‘signal code’ used by our ideological and political family produces a false sense of security; we need to have an open approach to the world and not be afraid of the intermingling of ideas. We must banish ideological prejudice.
- We have accumulated an enterprising and innovative capacity which needs to be redistributed and seminars such as this help to do so.
- Entrepreneurship implies the application of knowledge.
- It does not matter if you fail and we must not fear failure; if at first you do not succeed, you must try again.
- You have to fight for what you believe in and not in order to raise your profile or take up some post; we must eliminate bureaucracy as a vocation.
- Democratic entrepreneurs must assume responsibilities and direct, and consequently they must also respect people who, for example, only want to earn their porn salary without any further commitments.
- Creating jobs is the first socially-committed act of an entrepreneur; the second is to create another entrepreneur, particularly where there is a dearth of know-how.