By Madeline Kane
The NYU Reynolds Program is fortunate to draw on the expert guidance of program coach Susan Davis, President of BRAC USA, and the keen insight of Reynolds judge David Bornstein, founder and editor of Dowser.
Now, Bornstein and Davis have teamed up to publish Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know. With this new release, the team shares their wisdom based on Susan’s extraordinary work in international development in Southeast Asia and Africa and David’s extensive writing on social entrepreneurs around the world. Today, they answer a few questions from Reynolds fellows and scholars based on their research from the book.
1. Social entrepreneurs are looked to as the people with the vision. But they cannot succeed without a team of people supporting their vision. What are the characteristics of these team players that are necessary for early success?
David Bornstein: It’s not so much that the team ‘supports’ the SE’s vision, but that the team embraces, shapes and eventually takes full ownership for the vision as the organization grows. The SE gets the ball rolling and plays a key navigating role, but the whole team makes the vision come to life. Each team member should ideally be a changemaker in his or her own right. The paradox is something like this: Every person is 100% responsible for the organization’s success. And at the same time nothing happens without the whole team — which is also 100% responsible. So, aside from specific skills and knowledge, the key questions are: Do all the team members share values? Are they trustworthy? Do they fit the culture necessary for the organization to thrive? And of course, at an interpersonal level, do they each have the empathy and leadership necessary to be both creative actors in their own right and creative collaborators with everyone else.
2. Does impact evaluation of “social entrepreneurship” require an assessment of whether power imbalances have been altered? Is there a difference between a social entrepreneurship venture that involves, say, a tea company making a profit and donating that profit to charity, versus one that involves grassroots organizing to mobilize vulnerable populations to challenge current social/political structures?
Susan Davis: Yes, there is a great difference between the missions of the two ventures that you describe and a need to go deeper into the purpose and strategy to determine whether we’d define either as examples of social entrepreneurship. Companies that make a profit and donate some or all of that profit to charity are not necessarily unique or trying to solve a social problem. The venture could be part of a wider strategy but we don’t know. The venture that involves grassroots organizing to challenge current social and political structures may or may not be a good example of social entrepreneurship. We’d want to ask a lot more about how they plan to accomplish this and what the precise structures are that they are trying to change. Impact evaluation of any idea or venture needs to relate to the overall mission and objectives. If you are trying to change power imbalances, then the evaluation most certainly would need to try to assess to what extent your strategy and actions led to any change. Capturing relative power changes will be methodologically challenging but necessary if that is the goal. Usually you will need to identify proxies for expressions of ‘power.’
3 The current state of the field relies on tax-exempt status, pro bono work from accountants and law firms and other specialists, is this going to be the norm for the future?
D.B.: Almost surely not in the current form. This is a holdover from the past in which the business and social sectors evolved separately, with very different cultures, incentives, opportunities, legal structures, capacities, and connecting bridges, etc. In the future, to begin with, it won’t make sense to have stark divisions between for- and non-profit. The partnering will be much more direct and strategic at every level. The old legal structures are already proving to be inadequate, which is why people are creating workarounds, like the B-Corp or L3C. We’ll see far more robust social -business collaborations beyond the simple pro-bono or CSR models we have seen in the past, which are essentially an extension of marketing and old fashioned charity. There will be hybrid business models better suited to solving certain kinds of problems. The financing of social organizations, which is so capricious and fragmented today, will also be more rational. We see creative experiments occurring around the world in all these areas today. More talent will probably flow back and forth across sectors and cross sectoral careers will be common. No one knows where it will bring us all. But as my mentor Jane Jacobs has written: “For people who want to project trends, the one trend you know won’t happen is a continuation of what is happening now.” And for those interested in social change, that’s probably good news.
4. Why, if at all, should a social entrepreneur understand power and privilege, both as it applies to themselves, and as it applies to their target population?
S.D.: As part of one’s own self-awareness and growth as a person, we think that everyone should understand power and privilege and how these feelings and concepts play out in one’s life. If a person is attempting to create societal change, then it becomes crucial to one’s diagnosis of the problem as well as for identification of possible strategies and solutions. We recommend that social entrepreneurs understand the history of the problem that s/he wishes to address as well as the many ways people have tried to address that problem before plunging into one’s own idea on how to tackle it. The forces that keep some more powerful and privileged and others more marginalized and vulnerable has to do with the intersections of multiple factors including race, class, sexuality, gender, age, and abilities.
You can join Susan Davis and David Bornstein for the launch of their book tomorrow from 6pm to 8pm at NYU’s Puck Building. Click here for more information and to RSVP.