Posted by: Nathaniel | August 18, 2008

Top summer reads for social entrepreneurship

In preparation for some exciting upcoming fall projects and happenings (including the Social Capital Markets conference), I’ve been cruising around the web looking for interesting and insightful commentary and critique about social entrepreneurship. I wanted to share a few of the documents I’ve found most interesting.

Putting social entrepreneurship in context:

While ‘social entrepeneurship’ has gotten the better part of the press, it is part of a much larger emerging ecosystem of enterprises that blend the barriers between the non-profit and for profit sectors and focus explicitly on creating economic, social and/or environtmental value simultaneously. The Blended Value project has been at the forefront of the critical understanding of this movement for a few years now and is pretty foundational for understanding the changes underway in social change.

Putting social entrepreneurship in its place (or trying to): Just Another Emperor: The myths and realities of philanthrocapitalism

Michael Edwards critique of philanthrocapitalism (his term for the blended value space mentioned above) is an important read and absolutely worth reading and reflecting upon. That said, the critique itself is of mixed strength. On first read I thought his strongest points were his suggestion that social entrepreneurship can get caught up in its own hype and loose itself in the stories of epic individual heroes changing the world and his attempt to remind us that ‘civil society’ has a different set of objectives that should not necessarily be made more ‘efficient’ if that means sacrificing a vibrant but messy democratic process of concensus building. His overall indignation however was a bit to inflected by a generic capitalist critique to resonate with me. More on this for months to come, but an important read no matter how you feel about it.

Putting social entrepreneurship into practice: Startup and Change the World: Guide for Young Social Entrepreneurs

Young people interested in actually putting the ideas of social entrepreneurship into practice have for a while now had to extrapolate ideas, lessons, and best practices from the examples of other entrepreneurs levied in books like Bornstein’s “How to Change the World” or the recently published “The Power of Unreasonable People.”

The Thailand-based Youth Social Enterprise Initiative has changed that by putting together an absolutely phenomenal step by step how to for young people interested in starting their own social enterprises. It has the usual history, background, and context, but then digs into the specifics of finding mentors, writing a business plan, and those other key how-tos that us young people usually have to reinvent the wheel around.

The loyalist critique: Paul Farmer’s closing plenary at the Skoll World Forum

Paul Farmer is one of the few people I’ve come across who actually sees all people on the planet as part of his family and is not just ethically or intellectually committed to their rights, but emotionally invested as well. His organization, Partners in Health, was a recent recipient of a Skoll Foundation grant for social entrepreneurship, and subsequently invited him to deliver a closing plenary speech at the Skoll World Forum in May.

He used the opportunity to levy a “loyalist critique” of social entrepreneurship, reminding his peers that for all of their innovation in using the employing the tools of the market to improve lives, human rights are different than consumer opportunities and all their work must be filtered through the lens of social justice.

Re-quoted from blogger Mike Lee at

What’s been shocking to me over the past 25 years is the lightning speed at which policy makers, themselves shielded from the risks [that the poor face], decide that a complex intervention is too difficult or not cost-effective in Haiti or Africa, or not sustainable. In microfinance parlance, many of my patients are “poor credit risks.” But aren’t they the very people we claim to serve in the first place?

This is why I termed my speech a “Loyalist’s critique” of our movement.

We need to be aware that each of the terms and concepts and tools we’ve developed can be used to deny the destitute access to goods and services that sometimes should be rights, not commodities. Does anyone really believe that a mother loves her newborn more if she had to pay some sort of users fee for prenatal or obstetrics care? Such claims are “piffle” as you say in your country. But they are also reflective of an ideology that has crept into our entrepreneur movement. This way of seeing the world has deep, deep roots. It’s been remarked upon already but it’s our culture that is hard to see. It’s our culture that needs to change. Look around you and you’ll see people of every hue but there are not poor people here. It’s not that they need an invitation to Oxford. It’s that they need us to include them in our movement and allow them to be social entrepreneurs.

For the video, click on the “video” button on this link and fast forward to about 1hr

What have others been reading? Use the comments section to post your “top reads” from the summer



  1. Another fantastic read I might suggest is John Assaraf and Murray Smith’s new book, “He Answer.” Its a must read about how you can recondition your brain to think for success. The coned part of the book highlight strategies for growing companies.

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