Why Don't You Return My Calls?

Recently, I asked all of our social enterprise partners to send me new material; photos, videos, stories so that we could update our website and continue to promote their causes. That simply request demonstrated just how different it is working with people in the social enterprise space versus a typical structured business environment. 

For most of my career I have worked in corporate America where certain etiquette is expected, particularly when the boss calls. Frankly it should be inviolate when anybody calls.  Return the call!  Promptly!

I do recall when phone etiquette (today, general communications etiquette) meant something.  The obsessive among us went out of their way to promptly respond.  Pagers and beepers existed for a reason.  Some wore them proudly.  The less obsessive tossed them in the pool went they went off.  Oops!

I do not mean unsolicited calls.  I mean calls to someone with whom you are trying to conduct business, someone who has indicated they want to do business with you.  If not, would anyone argue that the punctuality with which calls are or are not returned is a leading indicator of business behavior, bad and good.  Shouldn’t everyone reciprocate in a timely manner?  Maybe not.  It depends.

Here is a picture of where one of the enterprises we support, Raising the Village, works. 

 Uganda to the left. Rwanda dead ahead. The Congo to the right.

Uganda to the left. Rwanda dead ahead. The Congo to the right.

Imagine an 11-hour drive southwest of Kampala near where Rwanda, Uganda and The Congo share permeable borders.  Do you see any cell towers?  If you are lucky you might encounter a sliver backed gorilla, the majestic primate made famous by Dian Fossey.  If you are unlucky it might be another sort of guerrilla, one with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder.   Shawn is the meticulous leader at RTV.  When I did not hear back from him the last thing I thought was that he was ignoring me, or he had bumped into the wrong kind of primate.

Here is another in Northern India.  Cowbells, but no cell or internet.

 Patna, Northern India

Patna, Northern India

Another.  Nada. Zip. 

 Words are not necessary.

Words are not necessary.

And, finally in Northern Ghana, dust invading the air from the Sahara.  Hard to find anything here.

The circumstances of place and time in the social enterprise space are frequently not correlative to the developed world.  Getting from point A to point B is often less an issue of distance than it is time.  This follows with communications as well.

The good work undertaken by social enterprises is enormously challenging.  Limited or no infrastructure is common.  Limited resources to undertake the myriad of jobs necessary to make headway are an ever present reality.  In these places, one must constantly remind oneself that western rules of business do not apply, especially when it comes to returning calls.  Yes, emergencies create challenges.  Transportation is required.  One just must hope the roads are clear, the vehicles are in good shape, rainy season has not yet arrived or your route not blocked.

So when I do not hear back from one of the social entrepreneurs I am reaching out to I know it is not necessarily because of lax communications etiquette.  There are far greater issues to contend with when you find yourself off the grid.