Social entrepreneurship: what it is, how it works, and where it’s going

A review of Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, by David Bornstein and Susan Davis

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

After three decades of increasingly widespread public attention, a surprisingly large number of commentators in the field of social entrepreneurship continue to argue about the most basic question of all: What is a social enterprise, and what isn’t? In this superb little book, David Bornstein and Susan Davis straightforwardly put this question to rest: “Social entrepreneurship is a process by which citizens build or transform institutions to advance solutions to social problems, such as poverty, illness, illiteracy, environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and corruption, in order to make life better for many.” So much for all those deconstructionists who contend that a social enterprise must never turn a profit, or must always turn a profit, or must address some sorts of problems but not others!

As an introduction to the field, Social Entrepreneurship is unmatched.

Most books on social entrepreneurship feature case studies or vignettes starring some of the field’s most innovative and successful individuals. This was the case with an earlier book of Bornstein’s, How to Change the World, which is widely (and rightfully) regarded as “the bible” of the field. By contrast, the three short chapters that constitute Social Entrepreneurship ask and answer the most fundamental questions that any reader unfamiliar with the pursuit of social change might ask, first clarifying the definition of social entrepreneurship, then examining the practical challenges practitioners face, and finally “Envisioning an Innovating Society.” In that third chapter, Bornstein and Davis discuss how government, academia, business, philanthropy, and the news media might contribute to fashioning the “everyone a changemaker” world posited by Ashoka’s Bill Drayton.

As the authors point out, “Social entrepreneurs have always existed. But in the past they were called visionaries, humanitarians, philanthropists, reformers, saints, or simply great leaders. Attention was paid to their courage, compassion, and vision but rarely to the practical aspects of their accomplishments. Thus, people may know about the moral teachings of St. Francis but not about how the Franciscans became the fastest growing religious order of its day. Children learn that Florence Nightingale ministered to wounded soldiers but not that she built the first professional school for nurses and revolutionized hospital construction. Gandhi is remembered for demonstrations of nonviolent rsistance but not for building a decentralized political apparatus that enabled India to make a successful transition to self-rule.” And if St. Francis, Florence Nightingale, and Gandhi exemplified the isolated and occasional social entrepreneurs of yesteryear, there are thousands of courageous individuals now walking parallel paths to institutional change on every continent — backed up by a growing suport network that includes Ashoka, the Skoll Foundation, the Schwab Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Avina, and many other organizations. Given the enormity of the challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century, their combined efforts may represent our last, best hope to create a world in which our grandchildren can live healthy, rewarding lives.

David Bornstein and Susan Davis came to the task of writing this book with impeccable qualifications. In addition to How to Change the World, which went into a second edition in 2007, Bornstein wrote The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank, first published in 1996. He is the preeminent journalist in the field. Davis is a supremely accomplished activist, having served as a founding member of the Grameen Foundation and then co-founding BRAC USA, which she serves as President and CEO. (BRAC began its institutional life as a Bangladeshi nonprofit, later expanding to many other countries around the world. It is regarded as the world’s largest NGO.) She also helps select Ashoka Fellows. Previously, she held a series of senior positions with the Ford Foundation, Women’s World Banking, the International Labor Organisation, and other institutions.

5 Comments

Filed under Business, Nonfiction

5 responses to “Social entrepreneurship: what it is, how it works, and where it’s going

  1. Pingback: Social Enterprise: A Resource List | Mal Warwick's Blog on Books

  2. In development circles, there is now widespread consensus that social entrepreneurs represent a far better mechanism to respond to needs than we have ever had before–a decentralized and emergent force that remains our best hope for solutions that can keep pace with our problems and create a more peaceful world. David Bornstein’s previous book on social entrepreneurship, How to Change the World, was hailed by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times as “a bible in the field” and published in more than twenty countries. Now, Bornstein shifts the focus from the profiles of successful social innovators in that book–and teams with Susan Davis, a founding board member of the Grameen Foundation–to offer the first general overview of social entrepreneurship. In a Q & A format allowing readers to go directly to the information they need, the authors map out social entrepreneurship in its broadest terms as well as in its particulars. Bornstein and Davis explain what social entrepreneurs are, how their organizations function, and what challenges they face. The book will give readers an understanding of what differentiates social entrepreneurship from standard business ventures and how it differs from traditional grant-based non-profit work. Unlike the typical top-down, model-based approach to solving problems employed by the World Bank and other large institutions, social entrepreneurs work through a process of iterative learning–learning by doing–working with communities to find unique, local solutions to unique, local problems. Most importantly, the book shows readers exactly how they can get involved. Anyone inspired by Barack Obama’s call to service and who wants to learn more about the essential features and enormous promise of this new method of social change, Social Entrepreneurship is the ideal first place to look.

  3. It usually takes me two months to read a nonfiction book. However in this case I read Bornstein and Davis in less than 5 days because I was completely engaged with their explanations and definitions of everything related to social entrepreneurship.I was fully inspired by Bornstein’s “How to change the world” and the cases he presented. In his new book with Davis I understood more about social entrepreneurship, its challenges, strengths, etc.I have been working on an organization that promotes social entrepreneurship for more than 3 years; after reading this book I understand more about my organization and my role.I believe that this book is crucial for everyone interested in social innovation, public service or social entrepreneurship.

  4. Pingback: Narrowing global inequities: a reading list | Mal Warwick's Blog on Books

  5. Pingback: Which reviews do you read? | Mal Warwick's Blog on Books

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