Interview with Michael Botur
Massey University’s chief social entrepreneur says money shouldn’t be the number one goal for those starting an enterprise.
A scholar of French and a lifelong activist who helped a Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign, Thomas Nash knows all about the language of change.
Nash says when we think of enterprise, “We think of a business and selling services and probably getting rich – however in French, entrepreneur simply means one who undertakes a venture.”
Chosen as Massey’s social entrepreneur in residence in May 2018, Nash’s most successful ventures include helping ban cluster bombs by an international treaty in 2008, and setting up and running anti-weapons NGO Article 36, a board member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
Nash’s successes led to Massey selecting him as the first social entrepreneur in residence at any university in New Zealand. The role – which he says is about “challenging some of the existing thinking around business and commercial enterprise that has often put profit before people and the planet” – is in line with other forward-thinking universities around the world.
Entrepreneurs aren’t only business students
The ecentre and Massey University are increasingly keen to show enterprise and entrepreneurship is about developing transferrable skillsets that can be used within existing organisations, or for new ventures.
Nash says social entrepreneurship can be integrated in almost any course or project, “because it’s impossible to keep up with technological change, so problem solving skills to enable people to forge and maintain relationships are more important.
“These are skills you get from studying arts subjects like English, sociology, politics – they deal with human relationships and the way humans exists in the world.”
The Tools of Entrepreneurship – Creating Meaningful Change
Would you like to effect change and progress in an area you’re concerned about?
Consider the tools Nash used to help Article 36 work among hundreds of NGOs within ICAN to get the UN to adopt the nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017. Those tools centred around thoughtful and regular communication - emails, face to face meetings on the margins of other significant meetings, phone calls, Skype calls – as well as public speaking, talking to philanthropists and getting traditional newsmedia interested.
Even just choosing the best name for a social enterprise can affect its success massively (look at the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots as an example.)
Interestingly, social media evolved over the period Nash worked on disarmament and humanitarian campaigns from 2003-2016. For him, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are no substitute for the number one essential: thinking in detail about your strategy.
“Think about what are you trying to achieve and what is your plan so you know why you are doing what you are doing and so you can set up activities that are relevant to your goals.”
When Nash’s disarmament groups were generating change between 2003 and 2017, “We met on the margins of meetings held at the UN. For years my weekends were taken up with meetings around conferences at New York, Geneva or wherever. If a UN meeting was Monday to Friday, the weekends either side were inevitably taken up with internal meetings… It’s a lot of time building up trust and confidence in relationships.”
Raised To Challenge Power
Both of Nash’s parents were academics at Massey’s Manawatu campus who thought critically about power.
Growing up in the 1980s was formative – it was the era of nuclear-free New Zealand, Māori sovereignty and the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal, homosexual law reform and the Berlin Wall. These huge social movements bubbling away – and being taken to anti-Springbok tour marches as a baby – “Had a big impact on my consciousness growing up,” Nash says.
The problems facing humanity today - climate breakdown, ‘financialisation’ of the world, and “the grotesque concentrations of wealth in small number of hands” – might be confronted better if we rekindled some of the “big mass movement culture” of the 1980s, Nash says.
“We’re in danger of supporting the system chugging along, when if we’re honest with ourselves, we know the system is going to chug only in one direction which isn’t a positive future for humanity.”
Campus Co-Lab – Walk in and start up
Nash’s day-to-day work at Massey frequently involves Campus Co-Lab, an innovative student-led service set up to develop students’ ideas about improving their university experience. “It’s a mini incubator where people come in and develop their ideas as much as they’d like.”
Along with ecentre, Campus Co-lab is part of the wider enterprise ecosystem at Massey, offering a programme with a “low barrier to entry” – friendly staff, no cost for developing an idea, and any idea is welcome, big or small.
Gearing up in Auckland and Manawatū campuses this year with launch events planned for May, Campus Co-Lab was originally set up at Massey’s Wellington campus in 2016. Successes include reducing ‘period poverty’ through the Wā Collective, helping facilitate bike sharing, MasseyTV, The Massey Fruit and Vege co-operative and Koha Coffee.
Outside of the University, Nash is running the NGO New Zealand Alternative as well as developing a low energy high performance house housing model called Shelter, which is being tested at Waipu.
How any Massey student can start something significant
Talk to your lecturers, Nash says. “They will know somebody, can almost certainly link you up with someone who they know is active in the space.”
Check out the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Centre at Massey.
Join a student club — the Massey University Student Enterprise Club (MUSE) and the Social Innovation New Zealand (SINZ) have joined forces to make an impact, and have events like the upcoming Go Innovate! ideas challenge and Starting Blocks mini-accelerator, which are open for social enterprise ideas.
Follow updates from leading thinkers in entrepreneurship and innovation research at https://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/explore/research/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurship_home.cfm