Posted by: Nathaniel | November 3, 2008

Barack Obama and the American Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship (Repost from

I wrote this column in the spirit of the election this morning. Read the full piece here.

Barack Obama and the American Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship

Published November 03, 2008 @ 08:21AM PST

In the late 19th century, Jane Addams saw Gilded Age America as plainly carved into two halves. On the one hand were “the favored, who express[ed] their sense of the social obligation by gifts of money,” and on the other, “the unfavored who express[ed] it by clamoring for a “share” – both of them actuated by a vague sense of justice.” Yet for the founder of Hull House – a social center providing the Chicago working classes with educational and political opportunity – this division rebelled against her very sense of American democracy. In 1893 she wrote: “the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain…until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

As I have become more deeply involved with the social entrepreneurship movement, the ongoing presidential campaign has often given me cause to think of Addams. Perhaps more than any other social innovator of her day, Addams wrestled publicly with the relationship between our individual and collective moral action and its reflection on the state of our democracy. For her, America was not an ideal of equality to believe in, but a process of working towards social justice, in which everyone must take part.

A legacy of restorative social innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit in the pursuit of a more perfect union are at the core of Barack Obama’s appeal to the new class of change agents we’re calling “social entrepreneurs.”




  1. Was happy to stumble across your blog today, through the Change the World group! I’d like to learn more about how social entrepreneurship can impact international development. Anywhere you’d suggest me to start looking?

    Kate J

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