November 11, 2005

Review of Chapter Twelve: In Search of Social Excellence

In the late 1980s, after interviewing hundreds of social entrepreneurs and spending years pulling Ashoka through its start-up stages, Bill Drayton began to appreciate a foundation beneath the work of all Ashoka’s recruits and successful social entrepreneurs. Though each social entrepreneur has different goals, methods, and limitations, Drayton recognized a set of common strategies used by every cash-strapped, big-hearted, innovative individual he interviewed.

According to David Bornstein, there are seven common threads that run through most social entrepreneurs’ practices (where applicable):
*Putting children in charge
*Enlisting “barefoot” professionals
*Designing new legal frameworks for environmental reform
*Helping small producers capture greater profits
*Linking economic development and environmental protection
*Unleashing resources in the community you are serving
*Linking the citizen, government, and business sectors for comprehensive solutions

On the surface, each strategy is distinct from the others, but they all serve a single underlying theme – a theme that is vastly dissimilar from the traditional methods of social change. In the past, aid and charity work was a top-down, often wasteful process infamous for inefficiency and corruption. For years, bureaucratic structures entrusted with poverty relief or education (or any number of other social issues) have been plagued by scandals and popular criticism (think oil-for-food). Social improvement, though also championed by a number of nonprofit grassroots citizens movements as well, has traditionally been and (in many cases) still is a top-down process.

Social entrepreneurship is radically different. From Fabio Rosa, to Vera Cordeiro, to Jeroo Billimoria, social entrepreneurs believe the best way to get results is to make social change a bottom-up process – one that puts the people most affected by a situation in charge. The people most familiar with a problem – that is, the ones with the most to gain or lose – should lead the organizations charged with promoting long-term developments. So it should be rural Brazilians in charge of improving their electrical systems, and Indians in charge of their own child services, not ‘experts’ or bureaucrats hundreds of miles away.

At its heart, social entrepreneurship is about empowerment. It’s about giving people the resources they need (financial, human, or organizational) to make the change they want. And the benefits are monumental. Someone truly passionate about a cause has a greater sense of ownership and that much more resolve to see his project to its conclusion. A social entrepreneur lives by flexibility, passion, and an intimate knowledge of his work. They know they must compromise, bring every stakeholder they can into their ambitions, and exercise unparalleled creativity to make ends meet and be truly effective.

Indeed, the extreme scope and breadth of social entrepreneurship around the world suggests that the greatest hope for third-world peoples may no longer be prime ministers or chancellors, but instead in the spirit of incorruptible individuals who will not stop until they change the world. Good-bye President Bush, Secretary General Annan, and Prime Minister Blair; hello Jacob Schramm, James Grant, and Javed Abidi.

at November 11, 2005 2:49 PM