When it comes to deciding how you’ll start your small business journey, the choices you make don’t have to just be about you. We spoke to Enterprise Facilitation advocate and founder of the Sirolli Institute, Ernesto Sirolli, to learn how to build a business that grows your local community and sustains the lives of others.
His advice seems simple at first: Ask questions. Listen to people. Immerse yourself in your local community – or the community you want to help – and trust the intelligence of others.
“Find out what the community needs. It’s all market driven,” says the entrepreneurship expert with over 40 years of experience.
“Don’t try and invent something you think is needed. Just take a walk and find out what the problem is, and try and come up with a way to solve that problem for your community. “
If you can come up with a way to solve a problem you see in your local community, Sirolli believes there is always a business idea in that.
“Stop imitating. Stop inventing stuff that you think will work without understanding the people in your own community,” he suggests.
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Fighting the good fight
To explain how the idea works in practice, Sirolli uses the example of a friend who has been working with former guerilla fighters in Colombia who are looking to develop businesses in their local community after years of hard-fought civil war.
“You have these NGOs from all over the world who turn up in Colombia with ideas about what the former guerilla fighters should be doing,” he recalls.
“No one [asked] what they want to do. Or what they can do. But my friend asked. And he discovered that because these people are from rural backgrounds, they can live off the land. These people understand horticulture because they had to feed themselves when they lived outside of civil society.”
Mentored by Sirolli’s friend, these former warriors now use their abilities to set up vegetable gardens, grow their own food, compost, recycle and do something that is very natural to them.
What does Sirolli wants us to take from the example? He wants us to be open to the ideas and experience of others when we’re working with our local community. Especially when we’re in the process of developing a business.
“Even in communities where there’s very low levels of education, with people who have just moved to a new place, with those who don’t yet speak English. Don’t kid yourself, those are very intelligent human beings. The fact that they’re not formally educated has nothing to do with their ability to start a business.”
Business that builds bridges
Sirolli has spent decades training hundreds of enterprise facilitators – people whose role it is to guide and aid those wanting to start a business – and those people have gone on to play valuable roles in the creation of more than 50,000 small businesses across the globe.
“We’ve changed the way government departments around the world look at the grassroots movement of starting a business,” he says as he reflects on his lifetime of work.
So, what role does this guru of grassroots business see technology playing for those keen to start something that grows their local community in addition to paying the bills?
“I believe that like never before in history, the independent artisan and the local boutique can work with anyone, anywhere in the world,” he says. “It’s up to you now. If you’re starting a business in Australia, it just takes one person from Japan to say ‘we need this’, and you could use your intelligence in Australia to solve a problem in Japan. Never before in history have we seen the opportunity for small business to thrive like now.“
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