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The Art and the Science of Social Entrepreneurship:

Transforming Persistent Problems through New Approaches

Dr. Pamela Hartigan


Managing Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
Singapore, August 2005

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is whether you can teach a person to be a
social entrepreneur – or is it that some people just born that way. The answer is – both. Let
me show you what I mean. .

• How many of you at any point in your lives have ever had an idea for starting
something or for improving what already exists?
• How many of you actually tried to get that idea implemented?
• How many of you are still working on making it happen?

As you can see from the show of hands – ideas are plentiful. The capacity to imagine is one of
the wonderful characteristics of all human beings. But far fewer among us actually try to
implement our idea and even less actually persist despite setbacks.

After working intensely for years with entrepreneurs all over the world, I am convinced that
they are born that way – their traits are wired into their DNA. Those traits include creativity,
single-mindedness, drive, and even stubbornness -a determination to keep going, in the face
of obstacles. But whether those entrepreneurial talents will be deployed for the good of a
society is very much based on the context in which he or she develops. Societies which foster
innovation, individual achievement, empathy and allow for setbacks will benefit enormously
from their entrepreneurial talent pool. Those that do not will discourage citizens from
undertaking creative responses that open up new opportunities for economic and social
development.

In my presentation today, I would like to do 3 things

• First, describe the nature of social entrepreneurship, drawing on a few examples of the
most accomplished among them.
• Second, describe the kinds of organizational expression that social entrepreneurs set up
• Third, provoke some reflection about what makes social entrepreneurs different from
Foundations, NGOs, companies – and why there is a critical need to understand how to
respond to those differences so we can benefit from their innovations. In this section, I
will focus specifically on the role Foundations and philanthropy in supporting social
entrepreneurs.

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So what is a social entrepreneur? Almost five years ago, when we started the Schwab
Foundation’s activities, the term “social entrepreneurship” was familiar to few around the
world. While today social entrepreneurship is far from a household term, in the past few years
its use has had a meteoric rise that, in my view, should be considered with cautious triumph.
Click on Google and you will find 4.7 million entries for social entrepreneurship and 2.9 million
for social entrepreneur.

But why do I say we should look at this mushrooming with cautious optimism? A short time
ago I was at a large international meeting in San Francisco. Everyone at that meeting who
was not a funder was now calling themselves a social entrepreneur. But in closer conversation,
it was evident they were not social entrepreneurs. They seemed to be decent folks running
charities or NGOs doing good things for unfortunate people – and that is wonderful. But they
were not social entrepreneurs. In our experience, social entrepreneurs are a rare breed. That
is not to say that all of us don’t have some entrepreneurial traits to a greater or lesser degree.
But the continuous energy to imagine, innovate, implement, measure, improve on innovation,
scale up, diversify, defy the usual, break the patterns, move in a new direction, create new
organizational arrangements… that exhausting and exhilarating quality of what makes a social
entrepreneur… there are not too many of those folks around.

So, to give you the theoretical definition, social entrepreneurship it is about seizing
opportunities to innovate and create systemic, sustainable social transformation without regard
for the resources presently in hand. The key concepts are innovation and systems change. As
importantly, social entrepreneurs commit first, and then they find the way to make it happen.

But there is nothing better than examples to provide you with the basis for fully understanding
the nature of social entrepreneurship. As you will readily see, social entrepreneurs are not
interested in organizing the problem through palliative and short term approaches. They are
about transforming the system. They have built their business models around sustainability
rather than including sustainability as an afterthought. They are excellent examples for
demonstrating how blended value actually is achieved and how sustainable social change can
occur.

Take Jim Fruchterman who founded Benetech in 1989 in Silicon Valley. Jim likes to joke that
Benetech is a “high tech non-profit on purpose” – as opposed to all those high-tech for profits
that died with the dot.com bust- and became non-profits by accident. Benetech is a not-for-
profit venture-capital model that fosters and finances the development of technological
initiatives which would not otherwise be taken on by for-profit software developers due to their

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low market returns – mainly because the population Jim serves through Benetech is socially
disadvantaged.

Jim came up with the idea when he was an undergraduate studying engineering at the
California Institute of Technology, one of the best engineering universities in the USA. One of
his professors was explaining the use of pattern recognition to guide “smart bombs” to destroy
enemy airfields. Why not use the pattern recognition for social good instead? Jim thought. He
came up with the idea of applying this technology to recognize characters and read aloud to
the blind. The first of Jim’s initiatives was the Arkenstone reading machine for the blind. The
Arkenstone talking/reading systems are considered pioneers in their field. To date, they have
delivered reading tools in a dozen languages to over 75,000 disabled people living in 60
countries.

Martus, another Benetech technology, is used by human rights groups as a way of capturing
sensitive information about human rights abuses. It was developed through research
conducted in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Guatemala, Russia and Eastern Europe. Benetech is also
launching a project to develop a Landmine Detector that will adapt existing technologies to aid
in humanitarian landmine removal. This device has the potential to significantly reduce the
1,000 year time frame projected as necessary for clearing the world’s villages and farmlands of
mines. Similar to many social entrepreneurs, Benetech works with a wide variety of global and
local companies including IBM, Intel, Sony, Hewlett Packard, Fujitsu, and Sun Microsystems to
name a few.

Then there is Nic Frances – a serial entrepreneur who has started one of the most innovative
and successful social enterprises in the UK and has launched easybeinggreen in Australia
where he has lived for the past five years. Easybeinggreen aggregates all the specialists and
products necessary to make homes more environmentally friendly and reduce energy bills to
the homeowner. Similar to all social entrepreneurs, Nic’s vision is enormous – he wants to see
that 70% of Australian households reduce their energy and water consumption by 30% in the
next 10 years.

Like entrepreneurship world over, easybeinggreen started with no capital. Just a passion and a
vision. In the last year, it has entered into an agreement with the ANZ bank to offer to add
financing for easybeinggreen’s fee to all mortgages at no extra charge, giving some 12,000
new customers an incentive to sign up this year. That is a $30 billion market – and Nic and
those who invest in easybeinggreen have a good chance of being market leaders.

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Nic is also setting the business up in California and when I was with him several months ago in
San Francisco, he had them so excited about this simple and innovative idea that he was able
to sell raise about half a million dollars from US investors.

The second company that has bought into easybeinggreen’s proposal is none other than
Google that is considering offering all its employees to retrofit their homes making them at
least 30% more energy and water efficient to offset corporate greenhouse emissions. What is
in it for Google? Its staff gets a capital investment in their home of about 10,000 dollars, they
cut their energy consumption costs, and their house is more comfortable as a result. Google
gets to offset the company’s emissions with a one off investment that provides an annually
recurring return. And it is able to offer its staff the possibility of being part of a great
environmental initiative that will directly support each participating employee.

The last example is Safia Minney. Safia started out in marketing in the UK. She was
frustrated to see so much creative talent in advertising wasted on “promoting rubbish”, as she
put it, and committed to using her skills to promote environmental and social justice. When
she moved to Japan at 25 years of age, she founded People Tree which now has a UK branch.
People Tree is a Fair Trade Company that works with more than 70 fashion and handicraft
producer groups in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and 17 countries across Africa and Latin America.
These 70 producer groups provide work for 2,000 people, including family members –
benefiting around 10,000 people in those countries.

People Tree is the first company that has successfully demonstrated that even in the fast-
moving highly volatile fashion and garment industry, Fair Trade can hold its own. People Tree
builds its image on being fashionable and “high street”. To compete, it works closely with
producers at the grassroots level, giving design and technical assistance based on traditional
skills. Particularly in the garment industry, the need for fairer trade is huge. Many
conventional retail buyers squeeze the manufacturers’ prices to levels that leave wages below
the poverty level. In addition, smaller producer groups often do not have the capital needed to
produce clothes, facing local interest rates of 30% or more. People Tree’s commitment to
paying advances and a fair price in the local context help overcome these barriers.

People Tree has played an important part in raising consumer awareness and building a strong
fair trade movement in fashion throughout Japan where already 500 shops carry its products.
In 2004, People Tree’s sales reached US 6 million. This year, People Tree achieved a major
breakthrough with the launch of a garment line in Selfridges, London’s most prestigious
fashion retail store.

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In addition to paying above local market wages to producers groups, People Tree is also
working to support organic cotton projects, controlling the dyes and using natural materials
and appropriate technology in its products. Fair Trade fashion makes no sense unless it also
reduces the heavy ecological footprint of the textile industry.

As you can see from these examples, social entrepreneurs undertake both public and private
sector functions simultaneously. On the one hand, they work with those populations that
governments have been unable to reach effectively or have ignored. On the other, they
address market failures by providing access to private goods and services where business does
not operate - because the risks are too great and the financial rewards too few. With little
market rewards or assistance, social entrepreneurs are reshaping the architecture for building
sustainable and peaceful societies.

Today, many of the world’s largest and most profitable companies are trying to figure out how
to access new markets and build their brand as responsible companies. Social entrepreneurs
support those efforts - and so companies are growingly interested in them, if nothing else, to
maintain their competitiveness and even reinvent themselves in the process.

Governments, also, have much to gain from supporting social entrepreneurs. But they should
not make the mistake of seeing them as simple service delivery subcontractors. Social
entrepreneurs are change agents, system’s changers. Like business entrepreneurs who are
the innovators in the corporate sector, social entrepreneurs are the innovators of the public
sector. Governments should create the needed support systems to allow them to innovate and
scale, without wanting to take over the innovation process and kill it as a result.

Social entrepreneurship is not a field – like management, medicine, law, or engineering. It is a


term that captures a unique approach to applying business discipline to problems of
unsustainable livelihoods, an approach that cuts across sectors. It is innovation and a focus on
systems change, plus a passion for accountability and sustainability, that sets the social
entrepreneur apart from the rest of the crowd of well-meaning people and welfare based
organizations who dedicate themselves to social improvement. It is also that approach that
distinguishes them from companies who seek first and foremost to maximize profits, and worry
about the social and environmental fallout later – and only when pressured to do so.

In sum, a social entrepreneur is able to take new ideas or methodologies – or innovate on


existing ones- make them operational by applying business principles and in the process,
change mindsets and traditional practice, thus triggering systemic social change. Simply put, a
social entrepreneur is what you get when you combine Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.

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At the Schwab Foundation, our mission is to build a “community of practice” among a wide
diversity of social entrepreneurs with similar mindsets and approaches to solving a host of
different challenges. Why do we work only with established social entrepreneurs? Why don’t
we work with start ups? This is a question we are asked frequently. There are many
organizations that do that, such as Ashoka, here represented by Anil Chitrakar. However, the
most important reason for our focus is a strategic one best expressed by John Maynard
Keynes. He noted that the greatest difficulty is not for people to accept new ideas, but to make
them forget their old ideas. Keynes sums up what we are trying to do. We are trying to
change mindsets, stimulate the creation of new institutional arrangements to address the
myriad of serious challenges and opportunities facing us today. To change the minds of
leaders, we need to prove that another way IS possible, and that it is BEING DONE by change
agents who have innovative ideas and practical solutions - social entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurship is most frequently associated with the non-profit sector, and for that
reason there is currently a proliferation of charities that have designated themselves as social
enterprises – and their leaders as social entrepreneurs. But it is a mistake to confuse an
entrepreneurial approach with a specific legal framework – it is not the legal structure you
choose to set up your organization that makes you a social entrepreneur – it is about how you
address the problem.

So what kinds of organizations do social entrepreneurs set up to carry out their innovative and
transformational work? In our community of 84 social entrepreneurs, some set up their
ventures as non- profits, others as for-profits – depending on their theory of change and how
they think that can best be achieved.

Based on the accumulated experience of the Schwab Foundation over five years, we are
beginning to construct a typology of the different “organizational” expressions created by social
entrepreneurs – all of which are aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the transformational
initiative.

So far, we can discern 3 such organizational expressions and their subsets:

1. Leveraged Movements: There are two types of leveraged movement models:

• The “emergence model” whereby the innovation is spearheaded by a social


entrepreneur who then spreads it by forming a loose network of early adopters that
apply it to their own contexts. It is highly effective because the innovation is

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disseminated through actual practitioners, and because no organizational structure is
necessary to ensure its spread, there is great flexibility and no administrative costs.

An example of such a model from our community is Takao Furuno, a Japanese rice farmer who
has developed and disseminated a sustainable, integrated organic rice and duck farming
system. Rather than using chemical inputs, Furuno introduces ducklings into rice paddies to
fertilize and strengthen rice seedlings and protect them from pests and weeds. The process
boosts farmers’ incomes by 20 to 30% and decreases their workload, while reducing
environmental damage and increasing food security. Furuno has no organization. Yet he has
spread his methods have spread to more than 75,000 farmers in Japan, Korea, Vietnam,
Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia because of his writings, travels, lectures and
cooperation with agricultural organizations and governments.

• The “structured catalyst” model, whereby the social entrepreneur creates the
innovation and sets up a non-profit organization to drive its adoption. In so doing, it
commits a cross section of society – from individuals to private and public organizations
– that drive the innovation forward through a multiplier effect. Longer term
sustainability is enhanced because of the commitment of all these actors to the vision
and objectives of the organization- which end up transcending the organization itself.

An example from our network of this model is City Year, founded by two Harvard law school
graduates, Michael Brown and Alan Khazei. It all started because they were concerned about
community disengagement and racial polarization in the USA. They believed that a well-
designed, year-long program of national service right after secondary school would be an
effective way to unite people across different classes, races and geographic regions.
Convinced that the success of such a program hinged on a range of partnerships with business
and social organizations, they nurtured relationships with many foundations and companies,
including Bain &Company, Bank Boston, Reebok and Timberland. Over the past 15 years, City
Year has been able to grow because it has worked with over 750 organizations across the USA,
spreading the model to 15 states in the USA, mobilizing over 109 million dollars from
corporations and foundations, and about 87 million from the US government. City Year is now
in South Africa as well.

2. Symbiotic Model: In order to sustain the innovation and ensure its adoption and spread,
the social entrepreneur creates both a for-profit company and a non-profit organization. The
financial resources generated by the company are partly invested to spread the innovation to
those who cannot afford to pay market rates for the product or service. The Symbiotic model
differentiates itself from the “corporate social responsibility (CSR)” movement in that

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companies practicing CSR are first and foremost set up to maximize profits and subsequently
are compelled (forced?) to set up affiliate foundations – many of which select to support
charitable efforts that have little to do with the company’s area of expertise. The social
entrepreneur that sets up a symbiotic effort has as primary motive the spread of the product
or service to the poor, rather than profit maximization at the cost of social and environmental
goals. The social entrepreneur is completely involved in both organizations, and his/her
company is locked into promoting the social mission.

The Freeplay Energy Group in our community is an example of the Symbiotic Model. Freeplay
is a publicly listed company. It’s core purpose is to provide access to energy for everyone all
the time. Rory Stear, a South African, founded the company to address two fundamental
impediments to socio-economic development in poor rural regions: widespread illiteracy which
impedes the effective use of written communication for information dissemination, and poor
access to electricity that has kept television and radio diffusion at low levels. Freeplay started
by developing cost-effective, sturdy, self-powered radios opening up the world of information
to isolated and impoverished communities in the Middle East and Africa. A few minutes of
winding provides hours of listening. Freeplay radios do not require electricity or batteries.
Rory patented the wind-up technology which is now applied to torches, water purifiers, cell
phone chargers and fetal monitoring instruments.

But Freeplay could not afford to produce and distribute these to its target population – the
poor – and continue to financially survive and grow. But that was Rory’s burning mission, and
he had to find a way to accomplish it. Fortunately, he discovered that Freeplay products were
wildly popular in North America and Europe where outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists and
emergency workers are avid purchasers of Freeplay products. So Freeplay has been able to
benefit from high volume of sales to affluent populations. That profit has allowed it to develop
and improve its products and to establish the Freeplay Foundation which buys the radios at a
subsidized rate for humanitarian and development efforts. The company has sold more than 4
million products worldwide, and the Foundation has distributed more than half a million of
those products to isolated rural populations through aid agencies.

3. Hybrid models

There are two types of hybrid enterprise models that are deployed to provide goods and
services to population groups, or for purposes, not previously served due to market or
government failure:

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• The non-profit hybrid – because of market failures, profits from the provision of
goods and services to excluded populations are not significant enough to support the
spread of the innovation. So the social entrepreneur forms a non-profit in order to
mobilize funds to subsidize the work with philanthropic investments. Benetech is an
example.

• The for-profit hybrid: After an initial outlay of capital, profits can support the spread
of the model and can attract private investment. Examples include People Tree and
easybeing green. To me, it is this for-profit hybrid model that is the truly exciting
evolution in the notion of social entrepreneurship – for it is flipping our known models
on their heads. Rather than setting up a business to generate profit first and then
figuring out how to be socially and environmentally responsible, social entrepreneurs in
the for profit space are turning the equation around. They start out with the premise
that the bottom line is social and environmental transformation, and they build their
business model around making that happen. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that
these models are harbingers of where capitalism is headed- given the powerful social,
political, economic and environmental trends that are creating some of the greatest
tensions – but also the greatest market opportunities – in our world’s history.

So how do you tell a social entrepreneur from the rest of well-meaning people wanting to do
good?
First of all, they are mavericks. The examples I have given you and many others, are all the
more amazing because every one of those entrepreneurs achieved their objectives initially with
minimal or no financial backing. In our sophisticated institutionalized sectors today, sight has
been lost of the scale on which one person can create social change, and the minimal euros or
dollars required to achieve it.

So where does philanthropy fit in?


Philanthropy generally focuses on one of two important purposes: conservation of something
of value – as in works of art, parks or rainforests – or constructive change in some human
condition, behavior or system. The philanthropy of conservation will always be valuable, but it
can be counterproductive if, in the case of the forest, for example, nothing is done to stabilize
the world’s population and to give everyone living near that forest a sustainable livelihood that
does not destroy the environment. Thus, for me, it is the second purpose of philanthropy – to
transform a human condition, behavior or a system- that is the critical challenge of our time.

We are asked to do nothing less than rethink our economic models. But we have done it
before – moving from an agriculturally based society to an industrialized system that has

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embraced capitalism. The primary world economic system is organized around Western ideas
and institutions. The main engine of economic development on the planet for 200 years has
operated through three interrelated drivers: the growth of industrial production and mass
consumption, market capitalism within a framework of government regulations and minimum
standards, and technological advances. This has benefited some people hugely, and some
people to some degree. But two billion people do not have a stake in the present global order.
The gap between rich and poor is central to the challenge before us.

Yet we cannot reformulate our institutional systems overnight – however, I am convinced we


can do it in the long run because I witness the current work of social entrepreneurs who are
now creating different types of institutions that combine public and private sector approaches
to achieve economic and social transformation. We are in an interesting phase of new
thinking and experimentation, and this is where philanthropy has a vital and catalytic role. The
key ingredients of socially responsible philanthropy are imagination, disciplined innovation and
the ability to spot talent and persistence.

Philanthropy is well-placed to engage in driving innovation for transformational social change,


for it is free of two forces that characterize government and business, respectively: the voting
booth and the bottom line. But sadly, for too many Foundations and philanthropists, this
liberty only seems to produce sluggish contentment. When I think about most US
philanthropic institutions, for example, I think about ossified efforts trapped in short term,
small town thinking, not realizing that the world is now in their back yard – or if they do realize
it, they lack the courage and ingenuity to support path-breaking innovations that change
systems.

How has philanthropy responded to social entrepreneurs? Philanthropy often responds to fads.
A new idea surfaces, its advocates insist that it is a far more effective approach than previous
ones, the idea sticks around for a while and then the excitement fizzles until the next new idea
comes along. So the idea of the heroic social entrepreneur who rejects traditional approaches
and comes up with new solutions to persisting problems is one that raises skepticism among
many philanthropic leaders that tend to view the concept as the result of the dot.com boom
that had so glorified entrepreneurs. So they ignore the work of social entrepreneurs and
continue to fund demonstration projects that they hope will catalyze social transformation in a
ridiculous time period of 18 months to two years.

But it is precisely in helping those successful social entrepreneurs achieve scale that our
solutions lie. We cannot expect the systems that created the problems we now experience to
now come up with solutions to those problems. We need new alliances, new thinking.

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Governments and aid agencies no longer can be the sole actors in addressing injustice and
inequity. The private sector can no longer see itself as simply in the business of making
business. And the philanthropic sector cannot be expected to come in to fill in the gaps. We
need hybrid organizations that can act as innovation bridges to all of these sectors.

The growth trajectory of social entrepreneurs starts out slowly. Unlike many foundations who
want to see short term transformational results, social entrepreneurs have learned it takes
time to change the world. There are no overnight successes among social entrepreneurs, as
with dot.com entrepreneurs. It often takes a social entrepreneur 5 to 10 years before their
idea takes shape into a viable and scalable solution. Even then, the approach must be
constantly modified to respond to unforeseen obstacles or dynamics along the way, only to hit
still more barriers. Every setback means modifying the idea or the implementation, yet the
social entrepreneur continuously adapts and persists. As one of our social entrepreneurs, Ela
Bhatt founder of the groundbreaking Self-Employed Women’s Association in India said so
eloquently, "The biggest thing we have learned after 30 years of existence is that there are no
definite victories or defeats. The most important thing is to keep on going".

Social entrepreneurs face challenges at every step of their evolution because they challenge
the accepted way of doing things. Social entrepreneurs defy traditional practice. Most
perceive them as modern day Don Quixotes at best, or at worst, totally crazy.

But social entrepreneurs are a different sort of “revolutionary” – they see opportunities others
don’t because we are blinded by the way things have always been done – the “established”
way. So one of the major challenges all social entrepreneurs face, even when they are
successful, is that because they disrupt the established order of things, they are not welcome.
If you think about it, most managers and civil servants deal with what is. Entrepreneurs do
exactly the opposite. They focus on creating things the world has never seen. Yet the world
does not give entrepreneurs sufficient status or opportunity to transform societies for the
better. Originality and creativity are still viewed with suspicion. Most organizations seeking to
employ people look for evidence of academic achievement and a boring steadiness that
produces good exam pass rates and grades rather than for experiences that might suggest
that a candidate is innovative and inspired, perhaps even rebellious. This is because most
organizations have a low tolerance for mistakes. Risk-averse societies and organizations keep
people from failing. They also keep them from trying. Attitudes towards setbacks and failure
are a major factor in nurturing or curtailing the spirit of innovation and invention. Thomas
Edison captures this attitude when he quipped, “I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways it
won’t work”.

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One comment I often get about our organization’s emphasis on the social entrepreneurs is that
it is a very “American” approach “. Why do we focus on the individual? Certainly it takes
more than the individual to be successful – they have founded organizations that are staffed
by people who also get credit for the initiative’s success. Of course, it is true that the people
in the organization are critically important.

But let’s look at this question differently. We are all humans, and we know that people and
their institutions – whether government, business or nonprofit, strongly resist new ideas,
however great or lousy they might be. Consider Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen
Bank in Bangladesh – father of microfinance – and a Board member of the Schwab Foundation
– who spent years trying to convince the banks that the poor were credit worthy to no avail –
so he set up a bank for the poor, and today the Grameen Bank loaned 3.75 billion dollars at a
95% repayment rate to 2.8 million borrowers in 40,000 towns in Bangladesh and launched a
world wide movement to provide credit to the poor – who were thought not to be credit
worthy. As Yunus has told me, “It turns out that the banks are not people worthy”.

The point is, it takes extraordinary persistence and creativity to sell the idea to others. The
entrepreneur is incredibly inventive in that regard, working day and night to find a way to
motivate, persuade, to engage others in believing in that change. In fact, that ability to
overcome these barriers turns out more important than the original idea. An idea in itself is
often so simple: Jeffrey Cooper saved thousands of lives by persuading manufacturers of
anesthesia equipment to standardize their dials so that anesthesiologists wouldn’t make
mistakes when they used different machines – such a simple idea… but making it happen took
years of persistent campaigning.

Now, let’s have a look at how most foundations and philanthropic initiatives operate.
They fund an innovative and often complex social project for a year or two, conduct an
academic evaluation, publish the results if it is successful, and expect the new idea to be
replicated across the country or the world. From our perspective, every step of that chain of
logic is misguided. First, no matter how great the idea is, the notion that a better approach can
be found, tested and replicated after a single trial and a few years of funding seems
improbable. One short-term demonstration project will never refine an idea to a reliably
replicable and compelling model in the way that a social entrepreneur shapes his idea over a
decade of persistent trial and error and against major hurdles.

And, as I mentioned previously, the time span for replication and change to occur is long. Few
Foundations, even taking account of their long term stability, will support an initiative for a

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decade. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “It is not that they’re so smart.. it is that they stay with
problems longer”. Finally, the formal evaluation process focuses on proving that the idea
works – there are lots of ideas that work to improve the human condition, but they lack the
person with the continuous energy, charisma, unshakable dedication - that exhausting and
exhilarating quality of what makes a social entrepreneur drive through change on a reluctant
society. Without the social entrepreneur, very few philanthropic grants can really result in
significant social change. What social entrepreneurs need is the help to take success to scale…
and it is not just financial support but technical and managerial support.

Let me conclude with some remarks for those among you who are young, or like me, young at
heart. I spend a lot of time with such people all over the world. They are eager to contribute
to their societies – and they often ask me how they can do something that gives meaning to
their lives. And here is one thing I have learned from working closely with the world’s leading
social entrepreneurs, and I would like to share with you. They listen closely to others, and
most of all, to themselves. They respond to their own instincts and values. Any one of them
could have been incredibly successful and made millions. Nic Frances was an investment
banker, Safia Minney a successful marketing manager, Jim Fruchterman was a high tech
genius who could have made millions in the field, and Professor Yunus, who originally taught
economics, could have been a University Chancellor. But they couldn’t tolerate the feeling of
emptiness and that comes with meaningless careers.

But we know there are strong family and social pressures that push us in the direction of
marketable, socially acceptable jobs – which may be quite different from where our passion
and strengths lie. In our community of accomplished social entrepreneurs we have engineers,
lawyers, medical doctors, biologists, journalists, psychologists, economists, teachers, and even
former motor cycle racers! All of them were experts in their fields and saw a different way to
apply that knowledge to change ineffective systems and thinking in that field – to come up
with entirely new, deceptively simple, approaches. As you can imagine, in deciding to pursue
their passion, they worried, and even angered, their family and friends. They were rejected by
their own colleagues. But they drove forward because they believed in their vision and were
able to convince others along the way. They were able to experiment, make mistakes, correct
the direction and persist in developing and implementing their idea. The key factor? They
listened to their inner voice – their internal compass that kept them headed – ever so slowly –
towards their mission. And even when by others’ standards, they seem to have accomplished
the impossible, they keep going, setting up new ventures to further strengthen their life’s
work.

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I would like to leave you with one last thought and it is drawn from a good friend and writer on
social entrepreneurship – David Bornstein. When you look at people ahead of you who have
made their marks on the world, use their stories for inspiration and guidance, but don’t
compare yourselves with them. You don’t know how humbly they began. Capacity is not fixed;
it grows along the way. Keep in mind that you do not need to have the knowledge or the skills
or the energy to complete a task when you begin it, you just need enough to begin.

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