Kathleen S. from Notre Dame sits and chats with a group of children outside a campaign in Riobamba, Ecuador. So much of the trust we create comes from simple moments of human interaction.

Today we are launching our December campaign around “Trust”, our third core value. We delayed a week as we know many were focused on #givingtuesday last week. As our followers know, in September we were excited to launch #ProjectEmpowerment, a social media campaign that highlights the core values that inspire our work at Social Entrepreneur Corps. Our core values shape the way that we approach empowerment in all aspects of our work. They guide everything from our internal team dynamics to how we engage with our collaborators to how we co-create social innovations with our community friends and partners. So, let’s get going today and share what trust means to us and why it is so critical to our view of social entrepreneurial success.

Ahhh….trust. This is one of my favorites because it is so incredibly important. It is seemingly so straightforward and simple but at the same time so many of the failures that I/we see in development/aid work on the whole come down to a lack of trust, be it real or perceived. To be blunt, when we mistrust, we fail. In short, trust is about believing in the good faith of others and about giving people, communities and organizations the benefit of the doubt when they don’t meet expectations.

Doug M. from Duke University plays with a young student in front of El Centro Explorativo in La Pista, Guatemala. Just as she trusts him to not send her flying, so do the people we engage with trust us to provide our best service.

I think we would agree that overall we have a global societal challenge in this work. People read about this aid strategy that didn’t work here or that project that went amiss there and questioning turns to skepticism which turns to cynicism which manifests itself in mistrust. Apart from the amazing work that David Bornstein and his team are doing at The Solutions Journalism Network (www.solutionsjournalism.org), too much of what we see in the media or read about is centered around failed aid work. We praise the business entrepreneur who has failed five times for his or her amazing tenacity, but are far less forgiving when a non-profit project doesn’t turn out as all would have hoped. We point fingers, look to blame and question intentions. And sometimes a bit of schadenfreude plays a part. This is not helpful. This is not helpful for any of us. Because we need innovation to solve the incredibly complex problems at the root of poverty, discrimination and marginalization. And innovation requires failure. And you only let failure happen if you trust. But let me hop off of my soapbox and talk about how trust is so important on a more practical level.

Trust is critical in two fundamental aspects of social entrepreneurship. It is necessary when we design and implement our social innovation models and when we scale. First, social innovation models must have trust embedded in their DNA. This is a requirement. We have to take risks with people and communities, oftentimes with folks we don’t know very well, and taking a risk requires trust. For some reason we seem to know this but when push comes to shove I so oftentimes see organizations step back and start with mistrust. As an example, when I talk about our MicroConsignment Model to people and describe how we give women entrepreneurs their inventory at no up front cost with no requirement for collateral I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me “But won’t they walk away with the inventory?” My somewhat flippant answer is a question back “Would you?” And of course the answer is “No!” Then why do we think they would? Here’s the thing: You must believe that, despite our different cultures and economic situations, we are all the same in our hearts. We all essentially care about the same things. This must be reflected in our models. And the wonderful thing is that when trust is given, trust is returned. The fact is that just as people can see trust in your eyes and understand it through your actions, they can smell mistrust from a mile away. The smell of mistrust wafts from onerous up front contracts, overly beaurocratic processes and procedures, heavy hierarchy and requirement after requirement after requirement. This is why trust is such an important core value. It is easy to slide into mistrust. We all do it unintentionally in our models at times. Trust is scary and we often feel like we have little margin for error (see paragraph above). But when we trust, we win together much more often than we lose. And if we don’t trust we often don’t even try. Certainly we must build systems and accountability, but this must be done with an overall trust built into the heart of our social innovation models. It allows us to innovate and to build the strong relationships necessary for this work, and it is also a lot more fun to trust than to not!

Sarah Webb, Social Innovation Leader in the Loja and Zamora regions of Ecuador, works with Euliria, a Regional Coordinator, to provide a community member with quality eye care. Because we genuinely care about the positive impact we leave behind, we are able to build trusting relationships with individuals and communities.

Secondarily, scaling requires delegation and decentralization, and the only way to successfully do this is to trust. This is true for both internal scaling within your own team and scaling with partners. First, when I think about what makes our organization “tick”, I hope and believe it comes down to culture. As Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM wrote in his book “Who says elephants can’t dance?”, “Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.” I hope and believe that our culture first and foremost is a culture of mutual trust. In fact, when people ask me about our leadership team at Social Entrepreneur Corps/CE Solutions I find myself continually saying “I trust them implicitly”. Because I do. And because we have this culture of trust we are able to operate across communities, countries and regions. We all make mistakes, but we trust each others’ intentions and forgive those mistakes. We feel we’ve got each others’ backs when push comes to shove. I believe this is what empowers organizations to succeed, and the tone is then set through this culture of trust of our empowered team to empower others. Without this, the work simply wouldn’t work. If you have an organizational culture where you feel the need to check in on people all of the time then you may as well check out.

When scaling social entrepreneurship you are obviously going to be working with a growing number of partners. A foundation of trust must be built and nurtured. Of course we all sign MOU’s and contracts, but those are to set out clear goals and roles and for worst-case scenarios, they are no substitute for trust. We have been very fortunate to work with incredible partners where we have this mutual trust and rarely, if ever, find ourselves looking to formal documents to resolve disagreements. This is due to trust and is both a privilege, and I would say a necessity. Because if you have to look at a piece of paper to solve a problem, you might continue to do a series of transactions together but you likely no longer have a relationship that will last. And without relationships you cannot scale.

Interns Annalise M. from Georgetown and Sreeraahul K. from Notre Dame work alongside and learn from Community Advisor Yolanda during a promotional event. Yolanda is incredible at interacting with people, making them feel comfortable and helping them to understand the work we do.

In our work with individuals and groups who participate in our programs at Social Entrepreneur Corps trust is no less important. We trust participants to come down with open minds and open hearts and good intentions. We don’t question this. We see this as a given and it must be lost not earned. This empowers us to incorporate them into our team and transfer the trust that communities have in us to them. We also know that they must trust us to keep them healthy, safe and engaged. This is “job one” for our team. We respect and understand the fact that the environments we work in can be a bit discomforting and cause anxiety, so we work to build systems and processes that respect the trust our participants have in us and in our ability to keep them happy and out of harm’s way. In conclusion, a culture of trust must be created and intentionally cultivated at all times in social entrepreneurial work. It is key for building social innovations, scaling those social innovations and engaging others in the work. Trust me.