My brother, Eric Verploegen, loaned me Social Entreprenuership: What Everyone Needs To Know by David Bornstein and Susan Davis. Eric has recently been doing a lot of thinking, talking, and reading about how he and others effect the world around us. This includes topics such as energy consumption and global warming, the misguided use of growth as a metric of success and prosperity, and population growth.
One of the themes that my brother has been drilling into my head is the importance of social entrepreneurs, which is the reason he loaned me this book. Eric has been impressing upon me that I am an entrepreneur even though I do not currently have the desire to start my own public health organization or initiative. Everyone involved in a social entrepreneurship is themselves a entrepreneur, even if they are not the big picture thinker.
This book provides a plethora of examples of organizations that got it right and how they were able to achieve social change. The book reads fast and defines the who, what, where, when, and how of social entrepreneurship’s. The short answers to these questions as defined by the book are anyone, for any socially productive cause, anywhere, now more than ever, through increasingly interesting and innovative channels and methods. Many of the themes in this book include seemingly common sense advice that is difficult to achieve in practice, such as having an open mind and thinking outside of the box. The book also encourages collaboration and cooperation between fields and the integration of knowledge sharing and partnerships between not-for-profits, for-profit businesses, governments, and academic institutions.
A subject that I have been thinking a lot about is the importance and desire for socially minded organizations to achieve sustainability. I particularly like how the authors of Social Entrepreneurship addressed this:
“…the idea of sustainability can be considered in two ways: the sustainability of an institution and the sustainability of ideas or values. The way we speak about sustainability usually refers to individual institutions. This is limiting. It’s like speaking about the lives of trees rather than the lives of forests. Both are important, but just as trees fall and are absorbed into the ground, institutions go through cycles of growth and decay. Some find ways to renew themselves; some die off. In thinking about sustainability, it is key to focus on the forest.”
This spoke to me. While I whole heartily believe that organizations should have good business sense in order to be efficient and successful, it is also important that organizations remember their goal. The goal of the organization should not necessarily be sustainability of the organization itself, but sustainability of the core mission.
A great example that Bornstein and Davis provide in this book is Jeffery Hollender, the founder of Seventh Generation. Seventh Generation’s goal is to increase the use of environmentally friendly household cleaning products. While Hollender had his own company to run and compete in the household cleaning product market, he also provided unpaid consulting services to Walmart. Since Walmart is a massive distributor of household products around the US and the world, Hollanders impact on the environment would be greater if was successful at reducing the impact of this retail giant – even if they were not selling Seventh Generation products. “At the highest level, success for a social entrepreneur is not about building the biggest or best organization in the field. It is about changing the field.”
I also liked how the authors related the needs of new entrepreneurial social ventures to new business ventures. They discuss how the riskiest part of any venture is during the growth phase, and this is no exception for social or non-profit ventures. Scaling an idea that was successful as a small model many times fails to take off in different settings with different parameters surrounding the need or demand.
This book did a great job of relating the social entrepreneurial world to the average for-profit businesses. While there were many real world examples provided for each point made in the book, I feel that the authors overused a number of organizations that they are affiliated or familiar with. It would have been nice to learn about a wider breadth of organizations and businesses in this social entrepreneurship category. All in all, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know was a worthwhile quick read that provided interesting ideas to continue thinking about.