Saturday, October 27, 2007

How to Change the World

I'm part way through reading this wonderful book: How to Change the World by David Bornstein. This is a book about social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs solve social problems on a large scale. Their ideas improve people's lives and these ideas are implemented across cities, countries, and in some cases the world. The book describes the work of many social entrepreneurs:
  • Fabio Rosa took up the cause of rural electrification in Brazil. He realized that poor rice farmers had a big problem: rice needed a lot of water, but the rich farmers who owned all the dams and irrigation channels set the price of water (relative to production costs) at triple the world average. Artesian wells could provide cheap water, but they needed electricity. But Brazil had done a very poor job of rural electrification. So this is the cause that Rosa took up. He systematically attacked all the problems holding back rural electrification (ranging from technical to political). And like a true entrepreneur, he wasn't just about the vision; he delved into the details, always looking for solutions to the problems. And he succeeded in transforming the lives of a lot of poor farmers.

  • Jeroo Billimoria took up the cause of child protection in Indian cities. She set up Childline, a

    ...twenty-four hour helpline and emergency response system for children in distress.

    It started in Bombay in 1996 and spread to 30 cities by 2002. "Childline," says Billimoria, "is not a charity service... It is a rights service." It provides number, 1098 (said as ten-nine-eight), that any child can call with any problem and Childline will help them.

  • Erzebet Szekeres took up the cause of assisted living for the disabled in Hungary. At the time, the only option for severely mentally disabled people in Hungary was to be institutionalized, with all the horrors of such places. Szekeres has

    ...created a network of 21 centers across Hungary that provide vocational training, work opportunities, and assisted living to more than 600 multiply disabled people. Her facilities have shaken up the mental health and disability establishment...

  • And many more stories.
These stories are wonderful and inspiring. But the book is really about the amazing individual that is the common thread to all these stories: Bill Drayton. Drayton invests in social entrepreneurs!

Drayton was profoundly influenced by Gandhi:

What most fascinated Drayton about Gandhi were his "how-tos": How did Gandhi craft his strategy? How did he build his institutions? How did he market his ideas? Drayton discovered that Gandhi, despite his other-worldy appearance, was fully engaged in the details of politics, administration, and implementation.

In other words, it's about the details, not just the vision.

Drayton founded Ashoka, an organization that seeks out and funds social entrepreneurs. In this sense it is a venture capital firm! Drayton believed that seeking out and supporting social entrepreneurs was the key to social change:

The way to promote innovation was to nuture idea champions. "Let's find these people," he said. "We should be investing in them now---when they are shaky and lonely and a little help means the world."

Drayton seems to have mastered the art of finding high quality social entrepreneurs around the world. As a young Ashoka staffer put it:

I saw the Bill had deeply thought through the question: "How do you find these people?"

All in all, an amazing book about an amazing man and the amazing people he's funding. You cannot read this book without wanting to rush out and support Ashoka---we certainly started sending a portion of our donations to Ashoka after reading this book.

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