Monthly Archives: September 2008

Social Entrepreneurs Prioritize Changemaking First

by Trabian Shorters

Are Social Entrepreneurs indeed Earth’s next best hope for survival, prosperity, utopia? Sure, why not. Believe what you choose to believe about it. It is just a term. It doesn’t ultimately matter what you call the people who would rather do it than define it.

As someone who has been labeled a social entrepreneur, and then was asked to find social entrepreneurs for Ashoka, and now is asked to coach emergent social entrepreneurs for NYU’s Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship, I am most surprised by two things:

  1. How fast one goes from 20-something aspirant as I was, to mentor material. That time flies much faster than you would imagine.
  2. How calculated, cautious, and afraid the current generation of “changemakers” appears to me.

So maybe, as a mentor, I can earn my chops by having an opinion on that.

The desire to simultaneously “make a difference” and “earn a living” is admirable and good – but you do have to prioritize one over the other. There is no “program” for social change nor a meaningful life. You must already have that desire kindled inside of you. It is the root of courage. For some, the desire to make a difference smolders and for others it burns. The rest are faking. Like any true love, it is impossible to embrace “social change” from a safe distance.

So let’s talk about “risk-management.”

Your willingness to risk normally decreases as you age. That’s why all those people who tell you that they will make their money first and then commit to changing the world are proven wrong 99% of the time. If you are too afraid to risk it now, that usually means that you plan to have far more to lose in the future.

I know that the many people who want to make social entrepreneurship a “field” say that we should have many levels of tolerance – from charismatic prodigy to nonprofit paper shuffler. Fine by me but let’s not confuse wage-making with changemaking.

Social change is NOT a field. It is a calling – a profession in the original meaning of the word. You may be called by your faith, your conscience, your ancestors, or your circumstances but the optimistic belief and integrity of a zealous changemaker (by whatever label) is vital to human progress. That makes it sacred.

I like the way that John Gardner described it.

“[People] of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that as a people we can live above the level of moral squalor. We need that belief; a cynical community is a corrupt community.”

I often encourage young people to fail big as soon as they possibly can because learning how to get back up is far more useful than learning how to never fall down. You would still be crawling if this were not inherently true. Think how limiting that life would be.

Time flies so how long should you crawl? Are you a changemaker by any name?


Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speaker Series

The NYU Reynolds Program’s 2008-09 Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speaker Series kicks off on October 8 at 12pm with Whole Foods Founder and CEO John Mackey. This free event takes place at the Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Room 914, but seating is limited and an RSVP is required. 
Other speakers in this year’s series include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (November 12), Ethos Water founder Peter Thum (February 10), and Echoing Green CEO Cheryl Dorsey (March 3). Other speakers to be announced as they are scheduled. Download the complete schedule here. 
Last year’s series featured BRAC Founder and CEO Fazle Hasen Abed, College Summit CEO and Founder J.B. Schramm, Blended Value Founder Jed Emerson, Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, International Bridges to Justice Founder and CEO Karen Tse, and Partners in Health Co-Founder Paul Farmer. Learn more about the NYU Reynolds Speaker Series and access videos and podcasts of previous events. 

How many socially entrepreneurial acts make a social entrepreneur?

By David Russell 

There are as many questions raised, as answers I have found,
in social entrepreneurship.

As a Reynolds Fellow at NYU, I am fortunate to have the opportunity
to explore some of these questions as they pertain to the projects on which I am
presently engaged.

How does one optimally prioritise scarce resources? What are
the most effective means to secure support for a cause? Where can greatest
value be added?

Such questions are not unique to social entrepreneurship,
but they are just some of the issues that I am addressing on work with the Rwandan
Survivors Fund (SURF) and HelpAge International (HAI).

With the 15th Anniversary commemoration of the
Rwandan genocide next year, the needs of the estimated 400,000 survivors in
Rwanda are still great. SURF’s approach to the support it delivers to survivors,
through raising awareness and funds internationally, is defined by a holistic
philosophy. It recognises that it cannot address any need in isolation –
whether that be shelter, healthcare, education, employment. There is a
necessity to develop programmes that are integrated to provide the
comprehensive support that many survivors still require.

For SURF, how does one optimally prioritise scarce resources?
By listening to the needs of the survivors, and prioritising resources
dependent on the issues that are most pressing as determined by them. What is
most effective to secure support? Giving a voice to the survivors, empowering
them in the process to speak out for themselves. Where can greatest value be
added? Through channelling funding through local grassroots survivor’s
organisations, to enable them to own and deliver the programmes.

With the UN International Day of Older Persons approaching
on October 1st, the challenge for HAI is how to engage the international
community to address
our aging society. The approach I helped to develop is an adaptation of
community organising, to
older persons across countries to empower them to meet with their respective
Governments and call for improvements in national policies on aging – through a
programme called Age Demands Action.

For HAI, how does one optimally prioritise scarce resources?
By developing a programme of direct action, which for a minimal cost can
deliver a maximum impact. What is most effective to secure support? By
identifying and engaging those in policymaking positions, and empowering the
older persons to demand action directly from them. Where can greatest value be
added? By leveraging the Government to deliver services that otherwise would
not be met by the private sector.

But often answers lead back to further questions. And when
the questions relate to social entrepreneurship, they ultimately lead back to
how the work is sustainable; scalable; pattern breaking?

And therein lies another question: How many socially
entrepreneurial acts make a social entrepreneur? And another: Does it matter what the work is called, as long as it doing good?

One thread at a time

By Tylea Richard

A year before I enrolled at New York University and the Reynolds Program, I entered a crash course in Social Entrepreneurship at the Nueva Vida Fair Trade Zone in Nicaragua. Most of the Fall was spent with my eye pressed into a tiny plastic magnifying glass, using the tip of a sewing needle to count each thread in a square inch of unbleached organic cotton fabric. Once Angel and Aguila, the men I worked with at the cutting table, gently unrolled the oatmeal colored cloth across the long surface, I would lean forward and adjust the magnifying glass until the tiny jersey knit came into focus. I would count, write down the results, and the process would begin again. This glamorous job taught me that it was easy to dream about a high quality, fair trade, organic cotton T-shirt produced in a cooperative. It was quite another matter to make that happen.

Several months later, I co-founded the Nicaraguan Garment Workers Fund with this knowledge in hand. At times, applying for 501c(3) status and negotiating with customs brokers felt more painstakingly tedious than counting threads. But with a little patience, the NGWF has blossomed. We sell the organic cotton tees made at the Fair Trade Zone to individuals as well as wholesale to organizations, businesses, schools, and artists. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts are used primarily for employee training programs, technical capacity building, and product development in the factory. We are in the process of investigating how to take the factory off the grid. With rolling blackouts wiping out power in Managua for hours everyday, solar panels would not only reduce the factory’s footprint but it would also save money and improve productivity. 

The Worker-Owners of the Nueva Vida Fair Trade Zone are working tirelessly towards autonomy. My goal is to help them get there through the increased revenues and exposure that we can generate through the NGWF. But we are not designed to be a perpetual “crutch” for the Co-op. Because we are consultants and not factory managers, the NGWF will meanwhile work tirelessly to be superfluous. In fact, it was only under these conditions that the Fair Trade Zone and the Nicaraguan Garment Workers Fund agreed to work together. Amazingly, the NGWF has already received similar requests of support from numerous cooperatives around the world and from apparel companies wishing to source from them.

I strongly believe that viable alternatives to sweatshop labor are possible, but there is still a gap between consumers and producers of socially and environmentally responsible clothing. As smart shoppers, strong advocates and savvy businesspeople, together we can continue raising the bar for workers everywhere.

Check out the NGWF in the Shop With a Conscience Guide and look for us soon on Ebay’s World of Good!

Calling All Social Entrepreneurs

Welcome to the NYU Reynolds Program Blog.

Our blog, created by the NYU Catherine B. Reynolds Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship, is a space for changemakers to interact–to discuss the realm of social entrepreneurship, trends and development accross sectors, updates on their work and their thinking, and anything and everything that impacts the world of changemakers.

Why add to the catalog of 12,610 (give or take) existing blogs that are related, in one way or another, to social entrepreneurship?

Good question. We hope our blog will provide a unique perspective by harnessing the thinking of those that are out there right now, trying to change the world in pattern breaking, sustainable and scalable ways. We hope to create a space where active changemakers can share ideas with the global community.

Who should read this blog?

Anyone and everyone with an interest in social entrepreneurship.

Who are our bloggers?

NYU Reynolds Fellows and Scholars, NYU Reynolds Expert Advisors, Harvard Reynolds Fellows, Social Entrepreneurship students at the New Business School of Amsterdam and other accomplished changemakers and social entrepreneurial thinkers.

If you would like to participate or recommend an organization that should be invited to participate, please email us at with “NYU Reynolds Blog” as the subject line. Include the name of the person and/or organization and the attendant email address. We hope to hear from you!