Recent Readings: “How to Change the World,” by David Bornstein

How to Change the World

David Bornstein chronicles social entrepreneurs around the world in efforts to capture the spirit of Ashoka’s galvanizing Innovators for the Public

“Changing a system means changing attitudes, expectations, and behaviors. It means overcoming disbelief, prejudice, and fear. Old systems do not readily embrace new ideas or information; defenders of the status quo can be stubbornly impervious to common sense.” (47) “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.” (Niccoló Machiavelli as quoted in Bornstein, 47) “An idea will not move from the fringes to the mainstream simply because it is good; it must be skillfully marketed before it will actually shift people’s perceptions and behavior.” (93)

According to Ashoka, social entrepreneurs assume the same ambition, tenacity and a for-profit “regular” entrepreneur, but work toward within the citizen sector. Social entrepreneurs work to improve an entire system. So, what makes someone a social entrepreneur by Ashoka standards? The person’s visions, determination, and ethics. The candidate must also successfully address the “how-tos.” How to use local pressures to solve a problem? How to overcome cultural obstacles? How to train others to do work? (122). The key is that this all takes time, experience, and relentlessness. Some other considerations include:

  1. Creativity – does this person have a history of creatively setting goals and creatively problem solving?
  2. Entrepreneurial Quality – does this person have an obsession to understand and solve the problem?
  3. Social Impact of the Idea – how many people will this idea affect?
  4. Ethical Fiber – do you intrinsically trust the person?

Best Practices of a Social Entrepreneur

  1. Putting the Children in Charge. Just like teaching children is different than teaching children, it is important to understand the fundamental differences of the beneficiary. “Like so many other social entrepreneurs, [Tateni] found that youth tended to be overlooked when problems needed to be solved. [The NPO] found them to be competent, less judgmental than adults, and always eager to help.” (200)
  2. Enlisting “Barefoot” Professionals. Favor flexible models and commonsense citizens to reach the target under-served market and put knowledge immediately where it needs to be. An example of this: Grameen Bank.
  3. Designing New Legal Frameworks for Environmental Reform. A highlighted example from the book was Bill Drayton’s work with the EPA. Instead of forcing corporations to succumb to EPA regulations, he chose to “make it more attractive for business to fight pollution than to fight the EPA.” (56)
  4. Helping Small Producers Capture Greater Profits. The target group may not always be factory laborers, but rather rural farmers. This “informal” economy can be helped by changing the “value-added chain” through changes in capital or market relations. (156) An additional example of this: Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
  5. Linking Economic Development and Environmental Reform. “Social entrepreneurs typically find that they cannot address one problem without addressing the other.” Focusing on organic produce, for those that cannot afford high cost, chemically intensive competitors, farmers can take advantage of environmental and economic benefit. (158) An example of this: European Centre for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism (ECEAT).
  6. Unleashing Resources in the Community You Are Serving. An example of thisComitê para Democratização of Information Technology (CID), founded by Rodrigo Baggio in Brazil.
  7. Linking the Citizen, Government, and Business Sectors for Comprehensive Solutions. Cross-sectoral strategy can work wonders – just consider International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) that works like a nonprofit venture capital firm, investing in labs and providing scientific support but also requiring the vaccines created are made available at low cost in developing countries. 

Best Practices of Innovative Organizations

  1. Institutionalize Listening – make it mutually exclusive. Sharing the Things We Have (Poland) highlights how exchanging a farmer’s experience with an urban buyer can be mutually exclusive (farmers want a new market and urbanites are interested in a reprieve). (205)
  2. Pay Attention to the Exceptional – listen to unexpected information.
  3. Design Real Solutions for Real People – get people to actually use the product.
  4. Focus on the Human Qualities – hire the right people and manage them well. Grameen Bank does not screen based on academic majors or previous bank experience. In fact, the Bank looks for people without banking experience because it allows the new hires to see faults and improve systems based on functionality and rationality. (212)

Qualities of Successful Social Entrepreneurs

“The most successful entrepreneurs were not necessarily more confident, persistent, or knowledgeable. The key differences had more to do with the quality of their motivation. The most successful entrepreneurs were the ones most determined to achieve a long-term goal that was deeply meaningful to them. Accordingly, they tended to be more systematic in the way they searched for opportunities, anticipated obstacles, monitored results, and planned ahead. They were more concerned with quality and efficiency and more committed to the people they employed and engaged with in business or as partners. Finally, they valued long-term considerations over short-term gain.” (238) “[Bornstein] assumed that social entrepreneurs would be motivated by altruism. But social entrepreneurs are not selfless. If anything, they are self-more in the sense that they heed their instincts, follow their desires, and aggressively pursue their ambitions.” (287)

  1. Willingness to Self-Correct. “The inclination to self-correct stems from the attachment to a goal rather than to a particular approach or plan.” (238)
  2. Willingness to Share Credit.
  3. Willingness to Break Free of Established Structures.
  4. Willingness to Cross Disciplinary Boundaries. Breaking free of limiting structures and assumptions, social entrepreneurs can be flexible in order to maximize options and influence.
  5. Willingness to Work Quietly. Building baseline support and a grassroots network outside the realms of inherited or purchased influence yields a strong foundation.
  6. Strong Ethical Impetus. The “why” provides the motivation based on ethics.

Harnessing the Power and Keen Intellect of Social Entrepreneurs through Blueprint Copying and Ashoka’s Mosaic Initiatives

  1. Identify General Patterns that Explains Social Entrepreneurial Success
  2. Focus on Patterns that Open Doors for Worker in Similar Fields
  3. Spread Principles Across Field’s Practitioners via the Diamond Strategy

“The test in each case is: Do we have universally empowering principles that would open major new advances to all practitioners? Do we see the jujitsu point [the point of maximum leverage]?” (Bill Drayton as quoted in Bornstein, 265). “Social entrepreneurs who are obsessed with spreading their ideas are obliged over time to eliminate aspects of their work that depend on their personal involvement or are designed only for particular locations or situations. If an approach is too complicated to teach, too expensive to disseminate, too politically contentious, or too context-sensitive, it must be made simpler, cheaper, less partisan, and more generally applicable. Otherwise it will not change society. It is the entrepreneur’s need to achieve major impact that leads to the years of experimentation and adjustments that culminate in a blueprint.” (266)

Why the need for social entrepreneurs? “The social arena does not enjoy the easy market signals that a business does. Unlike businesses, unproductive citizen organizations don’t get forced into bankruptcy. If they continue to raise funds, they can plod along ineffectually for decades. [However,] because it is inherently difficult to measure social value creation, funders and practitioners in the citizen sector historically have shied away from any attempt to compare the performance of organizations. As a result… the sector suffers from a serious ‘capital allocation’ problem.” (277) Metrics should play a role, but we cannot forget that numbers can give inaccurate illusions of truth. Analysts must provide in-depth, qualitative assessment of the organization.

Here are the nonprofit organizations (NPOs) featured in this book:

  • Pro Lu (Rural Electrification in Brazil), Fábio Rosa

“‘Installment buying literally transforms economies,’ notes Peter Drucker. ‘Wherever introduced, it changes the economy of supply-driven to demand-driven, regardless of the productive level of the economy.’ Consider that 2 billion people… are currently without electricity and half of them could afford solar power at commercial prices today if they had the opportunity to rent it or pay it off in installments. Bringing electricity to remote rural areas around the globe would not only transform economies, it would transform education and healthcare. It would transform agriculture. Access to electricity is often a precondition for farmers… Global rural electrification also would relieve the population stress on the world’s megacities, reducing the urban discontent that is so easily exploited by advocates of violence.” (39)

  • Childline (Child Protection in India), Jeroo Billimoria

“The best thing is not to have a picture of what you want, but to have basic principles.” (39)

  • Alliance Industrial Union (Assisted Living for the Disabled in Hungary), Erzsébet Szekeres
  • Associação Saúde Criança Renascer (Reforming Healthcare in Brazil), Vera Cordeiro
  • College Summit (College Access in the United States), J.B. Schramm

“Teenagers are the single most influential group in a low-income community… if teens are well engaged, it shifts the dynamic neighborhood.” (Schramm as quoted in Bornstein, 181)

  • Tateni (Care for AIDS Patients in South Africa), Veronica Khosa

“Tateni’s strategy was grounded in four principles: (1) complement the formal healthcare system; (2) seek parternships with all organizations in the community; (3) enhance the home care skills of family members and neighbors, including schoolchildren; and (4) involve the community in all major decisions concerning Tateni’s activities.” (197) “After studying Tateni’s systems, provincial health officials identified four components to successful home care: 1. The work had to be run by people from the community to be both cost-effective and locally accepted; 2. It had to be professional; 3. Training had to be practice-based; 4. The program had to demonstrate that it could bring in young, unskilled people and turn out graduates with the ability and credentials to pursue careers in healthcare.” (200)

  • National Center for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (Disability Rights in India), Javed Abidi

Bornstein, David. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.