HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

By Kramer, Mark R. | Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas


Kramer, Mark R., Stanford Social Innovation Review


HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas David Bornstein Hardcover: 320 pages, Oxford University Press (2004), $28.00

I must admit that I was skeptical when I first opened this book. The idea of a heroic social entrepreneur who could leapfrog the existing nonprofit establishment seemed highly unlikely. Yet, the dozen or so social entrepreneurs described in this book have effected change on an astonishing scale. Take, for instance, Vinoba Bhave, who spent a decade walking across India at the rate of 10 miles a day, persuading villagers to donate farmland to the "untouchables," India's poorest of the poor. His quiet persistence led to the donation of more than seven million acres, an area larger than Massachusetts, Delaware, and Rhode Island combined. These examples, and many others, are all the more astonishing because every one of these entrepreneurs achieved their objectives without substantial financial backing.

The growth trajectories of these projects start off very slowly - no overnight successes are to be found. It often takes social entrepreneurs five to 10 years before their idea takes shape. Even then, ideas must constantly be simplified and modified, overcoming unanticipated obstacles along the way, only to hit more obstacles, and then still more. Every setback means a return to the drawing board to modify the idea or its implementation, yet the social entrepreneur continually adapts and persists, confronting new challenges.

David Bornstein shows us that people and institutions - be they government, business, or nonprofit - strongly resist new ideas. Providing home care to AIDS patients fills an obvious need, yet the stigma of AIDS in Brazil meant that the Renascer, a local nonprofit, couldn't succeed until it repositioned itself as a provider of general care and nutrition, never mentioning AIDS. Selling the idea - even a demonstrably beneficial one - takes extraordinary creativity and persistence. The entrepreneur must invent a way around every obstacle - find a pressure point, a source of influence, or a compelling benefit to motivate change. The creative ability to overcome these setbacks turns out to be far more important than the original idea.

Bornstein's analysis of the practices that made these social entrepreneurs effective calls into question some traditional assumptions behind the ways that many foundations approach social change today Foundations fund an innovative and often complex seed 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. …

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