The Role of the Social Entrepreneur in the Great Turning

Is this the time of the Great Turning? What role will social entrepreneurs play in the next phase of our social evolution? Lynn Serafinn shares her insights

Last week four of us from the 7 Graces community attended the OxfordJam, a 3-day fringe event (running parallel to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, England) highlighting social economy and social finance projects from around the world.

I was sorry to have missed Day 1 of the Jam, but we did make it to the event Thursday and Friday. On both days, our crew had a modest ‘market stall’ with some literature about the 7 Graces Project, an ethical marketing self-assessment quiz and a stack of books for sale. On Friday, I delivered a 1-hour workshop on The 7 Graces of Marketing.

I’ve delivered the 7 Graces workshop dozens of times. I’ve delivered keynotes to thousands of people and spoken on hundreds of radio broadcasts and webcasts. But in spite of how many times I’ve spoken about the 7 Graces, sharing these ideas with perhaps only a few dozen people over those two days in Oxford felt…well… different.

The OxfordJam had a distinctly different energy to any other festival or media event at which I’ve spoken. After a weekend of self-reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that this difference was due to the collective energy of social entrepreneurs. I was so excited by this realisation I wanted to share my thoughts about it with you.

The Unique Collective Energy of Social Entrepreneurs
Nearly all the events at which I’ve presented in the past have either been to small-to-medium independent business owners (usually in the arts, media, publishing or holistic industries, etc) or to the general public interested in personal development or environmentalism. I like speaking to these audiences because they tend to be value-driven. They believe everyone has a life-purpose, and they are passionate about increasing happiness and wellbeing in the world.

Social entrepreneurs are also value-driven and are equally passionate about increasing happiness and wellbeing. But what is different about them is that they have a ‘meta-view’ of the world and their place within it:

  • Social entrepreneurs see society as a system, and believe they have a role to play within that system
  • They have a keen awareness of their social impact, and they take full social responsibility for their actions.
  • They look at how everything works together to create a greater whole.
  • They are not only interested in helping others at an individual level, but in serving the ‘all’.
  • They tend to be interested not only in living a purpose-filled life, but also in creating a purposefully-designed world–one in which all human beings and living creatures live in balance and harmony with each other and the natural world.

It is this meta-view that makes the social entrepreneur different from the traditional business owner (large or small), charity or member of the general public.

I have many friends who are social entrepreneurs, and our interaction has always been something special. But when you put dozens of meta-consciousness social entrepreneurs into a single room, they become a formidable energetic force. This is what I felt at the OxfordJam.

But even beyond this energetic force, as more and more social entrepreneurs come together to co-create solutions to so many of today’s social and environmental issues, they are becoming a formidable social force, leading us into a new phase of what some call ‘The Great Turning’.

The Three Dimensions of the Great Turning
The term ‘The Great Turning’ was first coined by eco-philosopher and author Joanna Macy, and later expanded upon by other authors such as David Korten. I was first introduced to it (and to Joanna Macy’s work) in 2008 when I trained with the Transition Network. I love the term, as I believe it brings with it a vision of hope and human possibility at a time that might otherwise be seen as a very dark era.

Joanna Macy defines the Great Turning as ‘the shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization’. She says the Great Turning occurs in three phases:

  1. Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings
  2. Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives
  3. Shift in Consciousness

Phase 1, or ‘actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings’, defines an age of activism. We have seen much of this especially over the past half century, even if many of the world’s political and financial leaders have ignored or minimised the message. Social and environmental activism is a sign of this initial phase.

As I see it, we have just recently entered the second phase of the Great Turning. Although there is still much work to be done at Phase 1, over the past few years more and more people have begun to analyse the structural causes of our problems, and suggest alternatives to the ‘old paradigm’.

The 7 Graces Project CIC is an example of one such second phase innovation. We might categorise our work as ‘teach-ins and study groups on the Industrial Growth Society’ of which Joanna Macy speaks when she discusses this phase. We are analysing the ethical issues within the communication medium of marketing and are proposing a new alternative paradigm.

Similarly, at OxfordJam, I met people from many other social enterprises, each actively creating new solutions for specific social issues. I saw innovations in business, finance, energy, the arts and education. One woman I met had started an enterprise that made light-as-a-feather portable writing ‘desks’ to facilitate education for children and adults in poverty stricken areas of Sundarban in Bangladesh. Such a simple idea. Why hadn’t anyone ever thought of it before?

Each innovation we create through our social enterprises comprises just one tiny ‘facet’ in the lustrous diamond of humanity. It might be difficult to see the impact of the 7 Graces Project or any of these other projects when viewed on their own. But when we look at them within the context of the collective movement towards social entrepreneurship around the world, we can see that we are all pieces in the greater jigsaw puzzle of the new paradigm emerging within the Great Turning.

‘The Adventure Not of the Future, But of Our Time’
The Great Turning might sound like the stuff of Utopian fantasy, but if you look around you, you can see it is already here. Joanna Macy says the Great Turning is ‘the adventure not of the future, but of our time’. Based upon all I see around me, I agree. The increasing move towards social entrepreneurship, micro-financing and other innovations in our business and economic paradigms are indicators of a great shift. We are IN the Great Turning. Many of us can feel it. It’s not science fiction: it’s social evolution.

The technologies and economic models of the 19th and 20th centuries brought us into an era of great disconnection with our planet and each other. This disconnection is the foundation of all the social, economic and environmental challenges we now face. But I believe the technologies and emerging economic innovations of the 21st Century hold the promise of bringing about the ‘shift in consciousness’ of which Macy speaks.

The Big Social Shift – What Lies Ahead?
Phase three of the Great Turning, Macy says, cannot come about without ‘a profound shift in our perception of reality’. She says, ‘that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening.’ While events such as the Skoll Forum and the OxfordJam demonstrate that a social shift of some kind is indeed taking place, we need to bear in mind that it is still a new (or unknown) concept for many:

  • Most of our businesses still operate upon a model of linear growth and increasing profits
  • Many business people I’ve met have never heard of the term ‘social enterprise’, and fear it would be a financially ‘risky’ venture
  • Most of our banks lend money only to those who have adequate collateral, leaving many without the means to create innovative enterprise that can help themselves and society
  • Most of our charitable organisations are unsustainably dependent upon funding from government or private sector
  • Most of our educational systems are still focussed on training people for employment rather than for entrepreneurship
  • Most of our rehabilitation systems (i.e., for ex-offenders, etc) also encourage clients to find employment rather than start their own enterprise
  • Environmental awareness, social responsibility and community service are often only peripherally discussed or encouraged in education or employment

Staying too much within our ‘conscious’ community of social entrepreneurs might lead us to forget that these gaps in social awareness still exist. For that reason, all of our little respective ‘facets’ have a vital role to play in this second phase of the Great Turning. Whether our work is ostensibly about ethical marketing, micro-finance or writing surfaces for Bangladeshi students, our GREATER mission is to facilitate the change by raising awareness in the general public about the shift itself.

How do we do that? It’s easy, really. Sure, keep writing blogs, sending Tweets and making YouTube videos. But more importantly, make friends with people. Talk to them. Get to know them. Instead of trying to ‘persuade’ others, inspire them through your goodwill.

And above all–be HAPPY in your work as a social entrepreneur. When you are joyful in your work, others will want to know more about what you do and why you’re so happy about it. It might seem really odd, but your personal happiness is probably the most crucial factor in your social impact.

I believe, if we are diligent in our service, we will eventually reach a ‘critical mass’ and become a tipping point for global change. And then begins a new era of respect, harmony and balance through social enterprise in every corner of the world. We may not see it in our lifetime, but it will happen.

So all ye social entrepreneurs, I leave you today with these words:

Work with Trust.
Work with Love.
Work with Faith.

And hold closely within your heart the absolute knowledge
that everything you do,
no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to others,
plays a vital role in the unfolding of the next era of humankind.

~ Lynn Serafinn

16 April 2013


  1. Macy, Joanna. 2004. ‘The Great Turning’. Accessed 15 April 2013 from Center for Ecoliteracy website.
  2. Korten, David C. 2007. The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. San Francisco CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of MarketingLYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the top 20 of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.




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5 Responses to The Role of the Social Entrepreneur in the Great Turning

  1. Cindy Barnes says:

    Beautiful and very inspiring Lynn. I sense we’re moving into a new phase where people are already motivated by the shift happening but they need more practical help. One way of providing this is by sharing our own and others’ stories of what we’re doing to support this shift. To show that a certain path or way is possible as you are doing with the 7 Graces project.

    My focus is on working with large corporates to widen and increase their meta-view of their interconnected with customers, all stakeholders, wider society and the Earth. Through this I’m also connecting with others who are also focused on the challenge of large corporate business so we can support each other and work collaboratively together.

    • I find it really inspiring to see how clear you are about your focus, Cindy. I feel like our respective roles in this process are different, but ultimately complementary. We’re both shining facets in that big social “diamond” I was talking about.

  2. Pingback: The Role of the Social Entrepreneur in the Great Turning | digitalcollaboration

  3. Tony Cuckson says:

    Dear Lynne, Your blogs are really some of the best I get to read. I have stopped subscribing to many email newsletters but yours is so consistently good. You are inspiring me to write blog posts just like yours but in my own style. Thank you for sharing your vision and I am now inspired to make more friends and inspire them with grace.

    • Hi Tony,
      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! It encourages me to keep writing. Please be sure to tag me on Twitter if you post something you think my followers would like to read. I’ll surely RT it.
      Warm wishes,

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