Entrepreneurs as Agents of Change: Fixing a Broken System Through Opportunity

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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We’re in a time unlike any other in recent history. A series of simultaneous once in a generation events have coalesced into a historic year that we will never forget. A global pandemic affecting the health and finances of millions rages on with no definite end in sight. We continue to grapple with calls for social justice and far-reaching equity. Exacerbating an already fragile situation, natural disasters decimate entire communities, pressing thousands into further despair.

We are at a critical breaking point and our collective decisions will determine how we tip the scale. There is an invisible supply-chain issue which we must be willing to fix. Love, responsible innovation, and compassion are severely lacking, and trust in our current system is dissipating and dissolving at record speed. If we are to experience peace, justice, and prosperity in lasting and meaningful ways, we must do the hard work of repairing the breeches in our global social fabric. 

More on the Forum Network: Resilience and Strength Shine Brightest: COVID-19 recovery offers the chance to create a more just, compassionate and sustainable economy for history’s largest generation of youth by Jayathma Wickramanayake, Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, United Nations

The coronavirus pandemic and its subevents have uncovered and exposed a harsh reality that millions experience every day and make clear the desperate cries for change that have fallen on deaf ears for far too long. Many of our national systems are broken and do not work for the many. Access to adequate healthcare, opportunity, and capital are lacking, mostly leaving our minority communities around the world more vulnerable and susceptible to the negative consequences of dire times like the ones we’re experiencing today.

Thanks to the activists on the streets and some journalists accurately reporting the facts, we are well-versed in the problems, but we are tragically bereft of tangible solutions. For far too long we have looked to government to be the chief arbiters of radical and innovative solutions. While government and its agencies do have a tremendous role in nurturing change, they only have partial role in the larger solution. We, as citizens, have a duty and obligation to do our part to create a better, more just, more equitable society for all.

We all should feel the onus of responsibility to create the change we wish to see. But even in this great sea of social change agents there are some who are called to do more than participate – they are called to innovate. The small business leaders and entrepreneurs wield enormous power and influence and in many ways are the gatekeepers of opportunity for entire communities.

Read Strengthening health systems during a pandemic: The role of development finance on our COVID-19 Hub

Innovation through entrepreneurship is the driving force of our economies. With nearly two-thirds of new jobs being created in the private sector by small businesses, we have an opportunity to give hope and dignity to those who feel that they have none and begin to adopt practices that inspire others to feel value and self-worth in themselves. There is dignity in work and many good hearted, industrious individuals are in search of it.

The hard work is not in the innovation that powers industry, but rather spreading the impact of opportunity in fair and equitable ways. Far too often we present opportunities to people who are unqualified to take advantage of them in that moment and throw our hands up in resignation declaring, “We tried!” But this is not enough. We must push to help make people ready for opportunity when it knocks on their door and arm them with tools and knowledge to leverage these opportunities and the financial impact they carry to better their economic futures.

This is the work that Operation HOPE has been engaged in for nearly 30 years – empowering families and communities with opportunity through financial literacy. To date, we have rendered more than 4.5 million financial dignity services to youth and adults, empowered more than 1 million young people with financial literacy, and have directed more than $3.2 billion in economic activity into disenfranchised communities – turning check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, minimum wage workers into living wage consumers and uncertain disaster victims into financially empowered disaster survivors. We are in the business of giving people with genuine aspiration a hand up, not a handout.

I believe in our power to transform and change lives for the better. I’m inviting you to imagine new ways that we can implement and adopt common-sense solutions for a more equitable society that benefits the many over the few.

In his 1963 book, Strength to Love Dr. King, Jr. wrote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.” These words still ring true today, but we can achieve the same level of impact and create the most good for the most people without any loss of life if we are willing to invest in people and the human infrastructure of the work force.

What we are calling for is a fundamental shift in the way we approach change in the world. As I highlight in my newest book, “Up From Nothing: The Untold Story of How We (All) Succeed)”, the private sector – that is entrepreneurs and small business owners – must become one of the primary arbiters of change. We are uniquely positioned to translate the frustrations expressed by protest into meaningful, tangible forms of social justice and economic outcomes. We are the bridge from civil rights to silver rights.

I believe in our power to transform and change lives for the better. I’m inviting you to imagine new ways that we can implement and adopt common-sense solutions for a more equitable society that benefits the many over the few. Dare to dream of new ways in which entrepreneurs walk alongside the policy makers in government and activists as change makers, not in the streets but in the suites. We have the power to change the trajectory of our future if we resolve to take positive action, fueled by love leadership today.

The 2020 edition of the HOPE Global Forums Annual Meeting took place on October 19-20. You can learn more about it and rewatch it at the following link: https://hopeglobalforums.org/2020-videos/ 

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Finance People Power Entrepreneurship

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John Hope Bryant

Founder, Chairman and CEO, Operation HOPE

Named as one of Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Most Admired CEOs” in 2018, American Banker magazine 2016 “Innovator of the Year”, Inc.’s “The World’s 10 Top CEOs” (honorable mention), and one of Time magazine’s “50 Leaders for the Future” named in 1994, John Hope Bryant is an American entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment and financial dignity. For the past two consecutive years, Bryant has been named in the "100 Most Influential Atlantans" listing developed by the Atlanta Business Chronicle that spotlights Atlanta’s top business and civic influencers. Operation HOPE is acknowledged as one of (No. 34) "Atlanta's 75 Largest Nonprofit Organizations", included in the 2017-2018 Book of Lists—a publication of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Bryant is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, Inc. the largest not- for-profit and best-in-class provider of financial literacy, financial inclusion and economic empowerment tools and services in the United States for youth and adults; chairman and chief executive officer of Bryant Group Ventures and The Promise Homes Company, the largest for-profit minority-controlled owners of institutional-quality, single-family residential rental homes in the U.S., and co-founder of Global Dignity. The last five U.S. presidents have recognized his work, and he has served as an advisor to the last three sitting U.S. presidents, from both political parties. He is responsible for financial literacy becoming the policy of the U.S. federal government. In January 2016 Bryant became the only private American citizen to inspire the renaming of a building on the White House campus, when the U.S. Treasury Annex Building was renamed the Freedman’s Bank Building. The Freedman’s Banks’, founded by President Abraham Lincoln, legacy has become the narrative of the work of Operation HOPE—to help all people in the ‘Invisible Class’ become fully integrated into our nation’s economy. In April 2017, a historical marker, also inspired by Bryant, to honor the final flight of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis on April 3, 1968, was installed at the Memphis International Airport 49 years to the day that Eastern Flight 381 arrived from Atlanta. In May, 2019, Bryant received an invitation to be a regular guest co-host for CNBC SquawkBox. A member of the founding class of The Forum of Young Global Leaders, and founding member of Clinton Global Initiative, Bryant is a LinkedIn Influencer, contributor to Huffington Post, THRIVE Global and Black Enterprise, and a member of the World Economic Forum and OECD Expert Networks. His Facebook Live “Silver Rights” Series has received 40+ million views, and serves as an engaging platform to foster essential discussion in the digital age around financial inclusion and social uplift. This series led directly to a Facebook sponsoring episodic streaming series entitled ‘Delivering The Memo’, inspired by Bryant’s newest bestselling book, THE MEMO. He has received hundreds of awards and citations for his work, including, Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award, and the John Sherman Award for Excellence in Financial Education from the U.S. Treasury. Bryant recently received an honorable mention in Inc. magazine’s “The World’s 10 Top CEOs” article that spotlights global servant leaders as the visionaries behind some of the most successful organizations. Additionally, Operation HOPE and Bryant are a permanent part of the Smithsonian AFRICAN-American Museum in DC. On April 15, 2019, the City of Atlanta City Council and the City of Atlanta (John’s home city) named April 15th John Hope Bryant Day. Bryant is the author of bestsellers; The Memo: Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation (Berrett-Koehler, September 2017), How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014), and LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass, 2009). He is one of the only bestselling authors on economics and business leadership in the world today who happens to also be African-American. Bryant founded, created and now leads more than 35 companies and organizations, for-profit, nonprofit and public benefit in North America, and in some cases active around the world.