Anthropreneurship Explained

I take a lot of pride in being an Anthropologist.  My studies primed my mind to think of others with openness and curiosity.  It taught me to see into other cultures and understand them as best I could without my own biases getting in the way.  And I use these valuable lessons every day as an entrepreneur.

What is Anthropreneurship

Whether or not you’re as big a fan of portmanteau’s as I am, Anthropology and Entrepreneurship go together like peas and carrots.  They are a perfect fit for audacious growth, impact driven business, and social enterprise.

Yet, most Anthropologists don’t realize the value of their degree.  I want to change that.

Entrepreneurship requires several key traits in a person. One must be willing to think outside the box.  Entrepreneurs tend to be a little weird, as they see the world as it could be, not just as it is.  And entrepreneurs tend to be risk takers.

Juxtapose that upon an Anthropologist.  Anthropologists tend to be quite weird — they are attracted to the  field of study because they already think outside their birth culture. They are willing to view disparate groups of people as valid and without judgement, and can see into their core values with ease (think: target markets).  And anthropologists aren’t afraid of risk.  We are trained to be contrarian, willing to push the status quo, and work toward validating others.  We also are taught a “do no harm” policy due to anthro’s earlier mistakes in working with governments that would leverage our insight and knowledge to harm others.

These two careers to hand in hand.  At one point I had a marketing director tell me he’d rather hire an anthropologist rather than a marketer.  He understood that, due to our training, anthropologists can see into target markets and groups in a way that most other professions cannot.  It’s kind of our super power.

How Anthropreneurship and Applied Anthropology Differ

In Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application, Kedia and Van Willigen define the process as a “complex of related, research-based, instrumental methods which produce change or stability in specific cultural systems through the provision of data, initiation of direct action, and/or the formulation of policy”. That is, Applied Anthropology is the field within Anthropology that utilizes its best practices to provide expertise to organizations and real-world problems.

One of the best known applied anthropologists is Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, which brings medicine to non-western groups in a manner that fits their cultural expectations.  That is, rather than pressing western goals and methods on non-western cultures, Partners in Health innovate new methods of delivery and management.  In doing so, the organization has achieved success where others failed.

Applied anthropologists tend to continue their ties to a university and academia.  Anthropreneurs do not.  Anthropreneurs leverage their training to create and innovate in business without answering to a research body.

This can be a sticky area for the field of anthropology.  Some bad actors in the early days of the study of anthropology left a bad taste for the field as a whole.  As a result, anthropologists tend to steer away from work in the mainstream market.  Sadly, this shoots the field in the foot, since anthropologists have both the insight and the worldview to solve problems, connect peoples, and innovate.

Why Anthropreneurship matters to a COVID-19 Society

As we push through this current paradigm shift (one that I am currently studying as an anthropologist), people feel afraid, unsure, and like they are living on quicksand.  This is due to the hallmarks of a paradigm shift, which are the dissolution of habits and systems.

Again, anthropreneurs can rise to the challenge and create organizations that support this shift, help others navigate, and guide us to a new paradigm. We innovate, see into the future, and are able to pivot at a moment’s notice.  Anthropreneurs understand that systems, cultures, and societies change over time.  In fact, they must change as new people are born, new beliefs created, and new paradigms emerge.  The pandemic is a global shift, but anthropreneurs know it is not without precedence and can use the past to shift in business to support the future.

The Future of Anthropology + Anthropreneurship

Anthropologists have a wonderful advantage in any field.  We have been trained to see past our own biases and into the truth, as much as one human can.  We use ethnography, the voices of many, to point the way to preserving history, culture, and painting what is possible.

Anthropreneurship takes these distinct advantages and applies them to business.  Anthropreneurs grow businesses that are more equitable, flexible, and sustainable.  What if the world had more anthropreneurs like that?