For nearly 30 days, I sailed with the entrepreneurs of Unreasonable@Sea. These 7 companies are putting a dent in some of the world’s biggest problems: clean water and sanitation, training of teachers in developing countries, cleaning the oceans, bringing life-saving surgery to remote villages improving the welfare of women and children, bringing jobs and dignity to people with hearing loss. Surely we can agree that these are admirable challenges.
After so much time working, living, eating, and playing together (a small ship is very much a 24/7 environment), we became so accustomed to the idea of “impact entrepreneurship” that we tossed about the term as if it were ordinary. As if every bright engineer, physician, bio-mechanic, oceanographer, educator, or designer would naturally identify only the toughest challenges and wrap a business around it. We came to take impact for granted.
Perhaps it’s understandable. Unreasonable@Sea created for itself a floating island of entrepreneurs, mentors, and staff with a common if broad purpose to tackle big challenges not as do-gooders or non-profits, but as business people. After a month at sea with these entrepreneurs, I’m confident that each will have an impact in the lives of the people they serve, and they will form smart, sustainable, and in many cases very valuable businesses in the process.
Still, I can’t help but think we’ve been missing the bigger impact.
We sailed on a floating island of black and white, African and Asian, gay, straight, young, old, pre-schoolers to Ph.Ds, non-believers and evangelicals of many faiths. It was a grand experiment in sharing culture and attitudes and understanding. And it worked.
Perhaps we united around a common curiosity to see and understand the world, or the common mission to make a positive impact in it.
What I know for sure is that these Unreasonable entrepreneurs have had a impact on each other. They have learned and grown and explored together. They ate together, played together, faced challenges together, encouraged each other. And they danced. Wow, did they dance.
In each port, we met with other entrepreneurs. In Accra, Ghana, we helped christen the West Africa Startup Hub and even as the power – and thus air conditioning failed – we sat around tables and talked to young men and women who dreamed of a better future made possible by starting a business. In Casablanca, we met a couple dozen locals at a technology innovation center at the edge of the city. We painted canvases together without using words, or hands, or sight in an exercise in collaboration. Then we ate and sang and exchanged business cards and talked about how we could help one another.
That night, it became clear to me that the great a-ha of this Unreasonable journey is the impact that understanding has on changing the world. Understanding each other. Understanding the ways in which we live. Understanding limitations and opportunities that other people face. Understanding that entrepreneurship is about overcoming prejudices and embracing people.
Tomorrow, the Unreasonables will take center stage at the U.S. Department of State. They will talk about impact entrepreneurship and pitch their companies and discuss the grand experiment that was Unreasonable@Sea. And I hope, I really do hope, that they talk about the impact that they have had on each other, and that in doing so, diplomats and politicians and other entrepreneurs will recognize that this Unreasonable journey was about more than waste-water treatment, teacher training, autonomous sailing vessels, low-cost surgical instruments, clean cook stoves, carbon nanotubes, solar collectors, and hearing aids.
Entrepreneurs with backgrounds tremendously diverse lived and worked and danced together. In peace.
Imagine what might happen if this grand experiment became common place. Imagine if there were more envoys of impact entrepreneurs meeting in cities around the world with would-be entrepreneurs in developing markets domestically and internationally.
Imagine that instead of being at sea, we were Unreasonable@Peace.