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Lessons on the Ground– Caring for the stories of others

(Series Intro) Last fall, we launched Jubilee Ventures in South Bend, IN. The hope was that our work on the ground would inform the way we direct the future of CovEnterprises, and vice versa. We wanted to create learning loops that allow us to not only champion best practices across the denomination but to apply innovative concepts and approaches on the ground.

All that sounds very exciting, but I’m learning that no matter how refined your concept, the work is always harder because it deals in real life (part of the reason we wanted to launch this anyway, to resist trafficking in ideas!).

How do we tell the stories of others? I often wrestle with this in many areas, but it is certainly an issue to consider in the starting of social enterprises. When we want to make a difference in the lives of others, it can be easy to use the stories of others to demonstrate that we are being successful. We might communicate with donors or partners or stakeholders and want to share stories of victory along the way, its only natural that we might reach for a success story from an employee or person we’ve connected with along the way.

But…is that our story to tell? And if we tell those stories to say–raise money–does that mean we are USING the story for monetary gain? The ethics of fundraising and storytelling is a HUGE conversation, and one that is much bigger than we have time to do here.

One of the ways I think that social enterprise helps guard against this, is because social enterprises tend to create a community that is potentially more mutual at the start. In our case, every person in the organization–regardless of position–has been ‘in the muck’ this past year. We’ve gotten our hands dirty side by side and worked together to solve problems. This–to be honest–makes it much more difficult to USE someone’s story, because that story is the story of a friend, and co-worker.

This isn’t to say we are immune from this, its a constant temptation and battle to be sure. Language and storytelling are POWERFUL tools to seek the mission ends we have. That makes it even more vital to evaluate our approach.

About Adam Gustine

Adam Gustine leads CovEnterprises for Love Mercy Do Justice and the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is also the founder of Jubilee Ventures; an economic incubator in South Bend, IN. He and his wife, Ann, live in South Bend with their three kids.

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