Sohodojo's RIBS Joint - Really Important Books and Stuff
Review: Inspiring Tales, Insightful Advice
We were all prepared to have a negative reaction to David Bornstein's latest book, How to Change the World. With its lofty title, and given the too frequent tendency of the most vocal of the social change community to come across as too pie-eyed idealistic or overly self-righteous, we just didn't think this book would speak to us. To our surprise and delight, we were utterly and completely wrong.
Bornstein's book is exceptionally well-written and based on exhaustive personal field research. It might have been easier for David to do the research for this book from the comfort of his armchair and Internet connection. But then the book would have lacked the depth of feeling, sense of place, and to-the-bone insight into personalities of the social entrepreneurs showcased in this book.
Bornstein could also have taken the easy road of handing us a cornucopia of inspirational stories about amazing people who have made a difference in the world and left it at that. Instead he wrapped these tales with valuable lessons learned, practical advice, and follow-through resources for readers who are currently engaged in, or wanting to start, their own efforts to make a significant change in the world.
While we recommend this book to anyone interested in being a social change agent, or social entrepreneur, we are also pleased to report that there is an underlying thread of content that speaks to those of us who want to pursue social change strategies from the Small Is Good World point of view.
Small Is Good in How to Change the World
As Bornstein's book confirms, many organizations that champion social entrepreneurs with fellowships and network/community support, such as Ashoka and the Skoll Foundation, tend to look for large and broad social impact that can result from 'tipping point' opportunities to scale a social entrepreneur's initiative/program. Most often this translates into these organizations focusing their support on mid- or late-stage entrepreneurial initiatives. As Ashoka's founder Bill Drayton explains in chapter 10 of Bornstein's book, Ashoka is looking for folks in the third 'take-off' step of the four-step 'apprenticeship, launch, take-off, and maturity' lifecycle of the social entrepreneur.
The challenge, especially for those of us who practice social entrepreneurism from the Small Is Good perspective, is making it through that ever-critical launch phase. We believe that in the emerging domain of Small Is Good social entrepreneurism - where creative individuals collaborate in self-organizing peer networks rather than grow organizations - our entrepreneurial lifecycle will exhibit a potentially extended 'launch' phase followed by an explosive 'take-off' phase as we tap the viral dynamics of the emerging Network Society and its associated Network Economy. Given this perspective, it is inspiring to note that a few of the showcased success stories have strong Small Is Good organizing principles at their core.
Among our favorite Small Is Good oriented stories, we liked two the best. The story of Jeroo Billimoria of India who envisioned and built Childline India Foundation is brilliant. Jeroo had a compelling need to address the largely-ignored problem in Indian cities of homeless, orphaned 'street kids'. In true Small Is Good 'guerrilla can-do' fashion, Jeroo involved the street kids in their own self-help program. Then, starting from a small successes, she built a decentralized and distributed network of affiliated Childline programs that has transformed how India handles this social problem. Her vision and program is now becoming a model for child self-help services around the world.
Another favorite story with a Small Is Good message embedded in it is that of Erzsebet Szekeres of Hungary, who has transformed her country's perception and treatment of the disabled through her Alliance Industrial Union (Assisted Living for the Disabled). Specifically we loved her development of integrated, assisted-living communities where multiply-disabled people learn personal living, social and, most importantly, work skills that allow many of her clients to move out into mainstream society. Erzsebet's story has a relentless can-do, failure is not an option spirit behind it that is undeniable and so necessary, especially when our social change strategies tap the power of the Small Is Good World. We particularly like how she recognized the self-help opportunity of building small business co-ops into her integrated community designs.
In both these examples, significant social impact was achieved not by growing a monolithic and hierarchical service organization, but rather through growth by replication and continual evolution. Both Jeroo and Erasebet were natural born practitioners of influence without authority. They built 'just enough' infrastructure to model and showcase their visions for social change, then they relentlessly pursued engaging stakeholders and influencing gatekeepers needed to expand the impact of their efforts.
Jeroo and Erasebet's strategies and tactics cited above are just a thin slice of the underlying Small Is Good message to be gleaned from this must-read book.
Reading and the Rollercoaster Effect
If you are already a practicing early-stage social entrepreneur or you are a preparing to launch your career as a social entrepreneur, be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster experience as you read this book. The worst "We're not worthy" Wayne's World feelings will creep in your thinking as you read. Alternately, you will be buoyed with near manic can-do optimism as you spot kindred spirits and reason to yourself, "If they can do, so can I!"
All we can say is not to worry. This is a natural and most probably a telling, positive reaction to your reading this book.... providing that your coaster ride keeps returning you to the high point of pressing forward with your social mission.
We've been active in private sector entrepreneurial activity far longer than we've been identified as social entrepreneurs. What we were working on then and are working on now have always had the same underlying social change motive. Throughout these nearly thirty years of entrepreneurial activity, we've become convinced that being your own worst critic is an essential motive force of the entrepreneurial personality. The depth of your insights into the environment in which you work will attune you to both the brightest opportunities and greatest pitfalls of your domain of action. Your relentless problem-solving mind has to first perceive the most vexing problems before you can imagine breakthrough solutions.
If you are truly a social entrepreneur, what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. If you feel you want to help change the world but you didn't experience an emotional rollercoaster ride while reading this book, then you may not have an entrepreneurial personality. You might want to consider working for a social entrepreneur rather than trying to be one. Regardless of the role you take in helping to change the world, your contribution can be significant and is much-needed as we struggle to lengthen the flight of Spaceship Earth (with us aboard).
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