Not All Places Are Equal: Opportunities and Obstacles

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That statement is true on many fronts … “not all places are equal.” Sitting down in a coffee shop this morning I just came here from class where we just finished talking about this. I began the class with the following quote from Malcolm Gladwell, “Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage.’” At first glance it sounds like that unless your parents had means, you grew up in the best school system possible, had opportunities along the way, and then went to a Stanford or other elite schools then you’re doomed for mediocrity and an uneventful and inspiring life. The opposite couldn’t be more true.

In my class I have students from the city, rural Oregon, Mexico, Cuba, Ethiopia, and several other states. We dug into the opportunities and advantages we have … if we grew up parents of immigrants, or immigrated ourselves to the U.S. for school, or had blue collar working class parents in a rural setting. The point is that within our own narrative we have built-in advantages that spur us forward. The child of immigrant parents from SE Asia who was raised in poverty it was just the catalyst and motivation needed to study hard and get into medical school or law school. The student from rural America grew up with the sense of a strong work ethic because nothing was given, but everything was earned. That was the right kind of cultural DNA that propelled them into the university where they had to juggle school, athletics, and working 30 hours a week at the same time. It was the drive, discipline, and work ethic needed.

These are the stories that define us and make us who were are. Woven throughout is this notion of place and its shaping role on our lives. What opportunities were available to us? What did we have access to? This is why it’s key to connect this idea of social entrepreneurship and the places where we’re starting our businesses or non-profits. More than simply making a living ourselves or extra money on the side how is (or could) what we’re starting or dreaming of starting going to influence the places we find ourselves in (or moving to)? It’s not an overstatement to say that what you’re starting or planning to start could in fact change the trajectory of the lives of others. This is even on top of the spiritual as we live out and share the good news of a risen Savior.

We should never write a place off. It simply takes one—one business, one non-profit, one church—that could send ripple effects throughout the urban neighborhood or small town. Just one. Crazy, right? Now is this being overly and blindly optimistic? No, not at all. This has happened in large cities as well as rural communities alike. It simply takes one. Your lone startup combined with a new church plant can very well influence the economic, cultural, and spiritual fabric of your community. This is precisely why we do what we do. We are hopeful and optimistic.

While not all places are equal and each one comes with built-in opportunities and obstacles we can certainly be part of writing a new narrative for the betterment of our communities. What will you start?

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Written by Sean Benesh

Director of Intrepid