We are so used to cleaning the outside house, but the most important house to clean is our self – our own house – which we never do.  I was able to learn a whole lot on cleaning up and thanks to the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 14, never have I known that the business of dirt and imperfection can purify one’s heart.

I was thrilled to be selected to join the inaugural 50Under40 cohort by American Express at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 14 in Nashville, TN.  I thought this was a perfect way to spend the Holy Week and meditate on the meaning of my life’s purpose. I was feeling down for quite some time now actually, not knowing whether I am making a real difference in this world so the Music City’s upbeat landscape in social entrepreneurship provided a much-needed retreat to recharge my batteries.  With my mind bent on celebrating service for the benefit of others, I marched alongside several philanthropic champions on my way to interactive learning, problem solving, case studies, hard skills acquisition and entrepreneurial ways of rethinking age-old problems. Indeed, this was an affirmation of my commitment to do social good in the field and not just be contained in a palatial voluntary warehouse.

When the Summit’s plenary session opened with the theme, “Building an Economy on Love,” I was touched by the two speakers’ personal stories on how they started their respective social enterprises.  The first to speak was Becca Stevens, owner and founder of Nashville-based Thistle Farms and an Episcopal priest. She created Magdalene, a two-year residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. Thistle Farms is a social enterprise run by the women of Magdalene. By hand, the women create natural bath and body products that are as good for the earth as they are for the body. Purchases of Thistle Farms products directly benefit the women by whom these were made.

The other speaker was Tolulope Ilesanmi, founder of Zenith Cleaners, a janitorial service provider in Montreal, Canada.  Tolulope shares,  “The act of sweeping is not just the cleaning of dirt and dust.  It shows the willingness of the broom to become dirty and its ability to clean itself to fulfill its next task again and again.  Forgiveness is the act of clean sweeping—clearing bias, prejudice and hatred and making visible the inner layer of love and warmth.  We too can, and should sweep our own minds and hearts with the simple and valuable sweep of forgiveness again and again.  So pick up your broom.  With such sweeping thoughts, we humbly ask for forgiveness.”

For me, this was the biggest takeaway from the Summit – to keep our house (or office), our inner house clean.  It may seem like such a big headache at first but if we take little steps of scrubbing, brooming and vacuuming the dust away each day, more layers of deep-seated dirt will surface forth the natural way.  In this social business that we are all in, a single stroke of a rag may not work its magic to clean spot on.  For like the Magdalene program, it takes an awful lot of healing and cleaning the recesses of one’s heart before moving on and accepting a purpose-driven life. It takes continuous strides before we reach that level shine.  What is important is to stay on course and be patient in striving to take out the dirt marks.  What is important to us as social entrepreneurs is to stay true to our mission, to humbly transcend ourselves first before we can touch other people’s lives to change for the better.

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