December 1, 2005

Review of Chapters Twenty and Twenty-One

Whether it’s the emerging vogue of social entrepreneurship in the media, the outgrowth of organizations that support and direct social innovators, or merely the sheer expansion of Ashoka from 8 to 46 countries over the course of little more than a decade, social entrepreneurship has become a powerful force for the disposed of human civilization. As social entrepreneurship grows in popularity, case studies, college courses, new organizations, and fresh research will all address social innovators and their visible role in modern societies – at home and abroad.

As Bornstein wraps up his book, he notes we can expect a number of new trends emerging out of the field of social entrepreneurship. First, as groups like Ashoka mature, new administrative, financial, legal and operational services will come online to serve social innovators. As organizations learn from their mistakes and spread their knowledge to other organizations, a body of knowledge will become available to people looking to make a difference, whether merely in their community, or across the planet. Indeed, one of the benefits of the field is that sharing knowledge and information is beneficial to everyone striving for social change. Competition, in the manner of traditional business, simply does not exist.

One thing that will come of this mass of research and experience is, as Bornstein calls it, blueprint copying. Organizations in similar fields will look for similarities in structure, strategy, and development, and they will share reports and other information with upstart firms in the field. The goal, says Bornstein, is to eliminate (or at least minimize) the invariable missteps new organizations make in their early years. Coupled with the cheap and facile dissemination of information in the global environment, this strategy will meet what Bill Drayton is aiming for in his description of Ashoka: “integrated, decentralized, collegial, and intrapreneurial.?

The future of social entrepreneurship, to be sure, will still be tied to the competitive pressures typically associated with traditional businesses. It has to be. For social entrepreneurs to stay responsible for their work, and for people to know what “charities? are effective and which are not, new firms and analysts will be needed to ensure the citizen sector stays accountable. A business that evaluates large citizen sector firms actually wouldn’t be a bad venture.

Potentially, Bornstein writes, social entrepreneurship will become a realistic career choice in the near future for high school and college students. For this to happen academic institutions, businesses and the government will need to take more interest. Certainly, if the same attention were paid to social innovators as to traditional entrepreneurs, many more young people would be flooding the gates of Ashoka and the Skoll Foundation. Perhaps in twenty years that will be the case.

In the globalized, tiny world of today, there remains little doubt that social entrepreneurs’ adaptability, creativity, and motivation will be the greatest assets for the human tragedies that continue to grip the planet. But if there is one way to sum up the essence of the social entrepreneur, it is as Bornstein does in the penultimate paragraph of his Epilogue:

“As a journalism student, I was taught that news could be defined as ‘destabilizing information.’ If so, the social entrepreneurs are news-worthy. They are destabilizing forces: Wherever they crop up, they pose serious threats to the status quo. And they are particularly important in the post-September 11 world. If there is a perfect antithesis to the terrorist’s impulse, it is the social entrepreneur’s. Social entrepreneurs demonstrate the power of building things instead of destroying them. And they are addressing many of the underlying causes of today’s global instability: lack of education, lack of women’s rights, the destruction of the environment, poverty.?

And that, in a paragraph, is the message of David Bornstein’s book, How to Change the World.

Posted by at 11:09 PM

Review of Chapter Nineteen: Morality Must March with Capacity

James Grant, the head of United Nations’ children’s organization UNICEF from 1980 to 1995, may not be a social entrepreneur in the typical sense. But his energy and optimism, his ability to draw together stakeholders and work with limited resources, his ambition to take on previously unthinkable goals, and his knowledge of his organization, its purpose, and its reputation, all suggest that Grant was an extraordinary social entrepreneur, at minimum, in character.

David Bornstein cites a number of examples to explain the terrific managerial and visionary capacity of the UNICEF leader:

In 1982, the organization launched a groundbreaking initiative that sought to eliminate treatable childhood diseases in the third world. In developing his strategy, Grant identified UNICEF’s competitive advantages and played on those to gain the endorsement of a number of international pediatric organizations. He built up momentum for commonly accepted and achievable causes, Bornstein suggests, before he used his “political? capital to attack larger problems.

Grant looked for support from the true players in third-world nations, not merely figureheads or imposed regimes. Often this meant using unconventional tactics that required quite a bit of gall. Seeking to gain the support of an archbishop in Bogota, for example, Grant “called the Pope and asked him to send a message.?

Grant was always searching for ways to maximize the efficiency, growth, and performance of his staff. Looking for true intrapreneurs, he was the first to assign important tasks not according to seniority, but according to ability. He always focused on the positives in people, examining ways to build up employees and provide encouragement and gain trust. Building human capital, after all, is a key task for any manager.

Perhaps most revealing of Grant was his insistence on simplifying the challenges in his job. He would meet with heads of state and explain to them that inexpensive packets of sugar-salt mixtures could save thousands, even millions of lives. And not only would he play down the scope of his challenges, he would make his mission personal for the leaders he was speaking to. According to Bornstein, he would also build a sense of competition between nations and leaders for who was most responsive to and active in meeting children’s needs.

If there is one person in How to Change the World with whom I am most impressed, it is James Grant. It’s just tragic that I haven’t heard of him until now.

Posted by at 7:41 PM