Making things happen

The 20th century created a pantheon of entrepreneurial pioneers whose exciting new products and services came to change our lives. Beginning most notably with Henry Ford, the century ended with Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Dave Thomas and countless others who turned good ideas into vast empires. These entrepreneurs were and are not only exciting, but they gave our society a feeling of energy and a sense of pride.

We now find ourselves in a new century that will continue, barring some calamity, to provide new opportunities for motivated entrepreneurs with a dream. What will make the 21st century different, however, will be the rise of a new type of entrepreneur. Instead of creating new products and services, this new entrepreneur will focus on making things happen in the public sector to improve the quality of life of our society.

This prediction of the public servant as a 21st-century entrepreneur might appear out of step with our present view of government. We are more likely to associate public service with comments like, “It’s close enough for government work,” or, “Innovation in government is an oxymoron.” Indeed, public service has long been viewed with suspicion, ambivalence and even disdain by most citizens.

Rarely do we think of government service as a calling for people with an entrepreneurial spirit.

This perception changed abruptly with the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. The heroic efforts of firefighters and police to rescue the victims of that disaster generated a new interest among younger citizens to become a part of the public service sector.

This new interest relates to entrepreneurship because many of these bright, young people will have a very different view of their public service role. They are not going to accept the long standing 20th-century rule that politicians make policy that civil servants blindly implement. Rather, this new, energized public servant of the 21st century will feel a commitment to shaping and implementing public policies that will effectively address the problems confronting our society.

The challenge of shaping and implementing policy requires an entrepreneur’s skill of identifying problems and bringing together the necessary resources to initiate action. The entrepreneur needs to be a leader, but a leader that cherishes the opportunity to work within the democratic process. To make things happen in the 21st century will require an entrepreneurial spirit that is willing and able to marshal three key resources: the bureaucracy, the political elite and the citizens they serve.

The entrepreneurial public servant needs all the skills of a management leader to energize the government bureaucracy. Fortunately, management innovations that are transforming the private sector today are finding their way into public service. The concept of performance-based management is rapidly becoming as much the language of the public sector as it is in any business. The new entrepreneur will understand the modern tools of management to create a civil service that is policy focused.

The entrepreneurial public servant needs to be an honest broker for the political elite that largely set the agenda for policy development. The elite perceive themselves as the stakeholders with the most to gain or lose through the actions of government. The entrepreneur needs to understand their concerns in order to negotiate viable policy options. The outcome of this political skill is the creation of coalitions that support strong public policies that will lead to a better common good.

The entrepreneurial public servant needs to be a community leader. The skill required in this role is to make citizens a part of the policy-making process. Some citizens may lack awareness. Some citizens may even feel disenfranchised from the policy-making process. The entrepreneur as a community leader will find new ways to make the voice of the public heard in the policy-making process.

While many citizens are often resistant to change, in the long run, active citizen participation creates a buy-in and acceptance of policies that will ultimately improve their quality of life.

The reward for the classical entrepreneur of the private sector is fame and fortune. The reward for the new public sector entrepreneur will be the satisfaction of creating positive change in our society. Despite this difference in reward, both types of entrepreneurs will have shown a high level of imagination, energy, and skill in bringing their dreams to fruition. Moreover, they will both be very much needed as we meet the challenges of the 21st century.

DR. TERRELL G. MANYAK is a professor of public administration and management at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship. Earning his M.P.A. degree at Syracuse University and Ph.D. from UCLA, he has published extensively in the areas of public policy and economic development. Dr. Manyak’s professional experience includes the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as working with the Republic of the Sudan. You can reach him at (800) 672-7223.

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