Enrique Rodríguez Aréchiga
Co-founder & CFO
Someone Somewhere
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Startup Contributor

Romantizicing The Problem is not Enough for Social Entrepreneurs

By Enrique Rodríguez Aréchiga | Tue, 01/05/2021 - 13:39

In the social entrepreneurial ecosystem, there is a common phrase that is fundamental for a social venture to start down the right path and keep the pace for years to come: “Fall in love with the problem, not with the solution.” When you are in love with your “solution,” you may hold onto it, losing the clarity you need to change your market approach, client strategy, sales channels, or even the product or service itself. You will be reluctant to listen to feedback, even from your clients or beneficiaries. If the problem is not actually solved in the execution of your solution, it risks being abandoned. 
When you stick to the solution it becomes a whim that is easy to drop. As a social entrepreneur, you do not want to impose external needs that generate negative impacts, but if you go with your first idea, you risk wasting money, time and resources that may result in white elephants and broken hearts. 
Meanwhile, the social need you picked, the purpose for it all, is still waiting to be solved! You already have good intentions and intuition so don’t get stuck on your first, theoretical idea; trust me, there is lots to be learned from the journey. 
When you fall in love with the problem, however, you will be open to experimenting and failing many times until you prove your hypotheses. Especially in the early stages, you must deeply understand the problem you want to solve, how it affects your neighborhood, society, or environment. While many people think that a problem can be solved from their desks, it cannot. Having said that, let me tell you that I still find that this phrase is actually incomplete and should be rephrased. Here’s why. 
As human beings, when you fall in love with someone, you normally have blind love for some months, where everything feels great and perfect. Some call it the honeymoon phase. Eventually you begin to realize that there are some details that you don’t like as much as you thought. This realization allows you to correct course and maintain a healthy relationship. 
The same happens when you fall in love with your problem. At first, you romanticize the problem, sometimes you victimize the people involved, blame the system and say it’s against you. Ultimately, your vision is blurred. This is the point that calls for true immersion into the problem and the beneficiaries. Studying the causes and consequences and arriving at a deep diagnosis of the current situation with the participation of the main actors is imperative. For me, this involves living in the community and interacting with the people we wanted to impact. This will give you a holistic and honest perspective of the problem, and after this exercise, which could take months, you end up with a profound love for the problem that transcends the blind love of the early days. 
Social entrepreneurs will spend a lot of time operating and trying to find the best social business model to solve a specific problem, but if you focus just on the solution without experiencing the problem, you risk abandonment of your venture when you face unforeseen challenges like a lack of funding, emotional problems, mental burnout, operational difficulties, disagreements with your partners or getting bored of the current activities that are far from your purpose. 
Whenever you suffer from this kind of crisis, you will need to reconnect with the problem, re-energize those experiences and feelings and remember what you fell in love in the first place. Returning to the mountain your venture is conserving, catching up with the people you are supporting, or spending a weekend with the children you are protecting, will give you the motivation you need to start over. That is why the phrase is incomplete. It should read something like this: “Don´t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem while living it deeply and constantly.” 
A clear problem to solve becomes a strong purpose. If you are solving something important for the world, it becomes something more transcendent that your own life and you will not give up easily. Living the purpose deeply and constantly will help you remain connected, and will allow you to work through fear, to persevere, resist, innovate, knock on new doors, solve big problems, and never give up. The purpose will be the heart, and the solution will be the engine to solve that big social problem.