JONATHAN KAPLAN: Well, this has already been a truly informative and memorable morning from our Social Change Conference. And to continue in the spirit, I’d like to introduce our next session, which will give us a perspective from the frontlines of social entrepreneurship.
Our panel will share firsthand stories and ways to identify social needs and tips on taking action to starting your own organization, and, as Cheryl Dorsey said earlier, more importantly than starting one’s own organization, working with others to make great strides in order to effect change in a meaningful way.
And since we have quite a few speakers for this panel, we’re going to take questions in a slightly different manner.
We’ll get as many questions as possible to Peter Kannam, who is moderating our panel today. A social entrepreneur himself, I can think of no better person to guide our discussion on perspectives from the frontline. And it was interesting being in the greenroom earlier this morning with Peter and with Anthony Jewett, who’s on our panel. You could see the passion juices flowing, as Cheryl was saying earlier this morning, just as the two of them began networking and talking about how they could work together, bring their organizations together in a meaningful way. And it was social entrepreneurship in action with all the passion and all the desire to have a significant impact that we really believe is part and parcel of what being a true social innovator is all about.
Peter has been the executive director of New Leaders for New Schools in Maryland since its launch in 2005. New Leaders for New Schools Maryland is the state-level initiative of a national social enterprise. Peter directs the work of securing the best talent from around the country and providing cutting-edge competency-based training to instructional leaders who are transforming urban education in Maryland’s most challenged districts.
Under his leadership, the program has grown to 80 leaders across the state of Maryland and more than 15 percent of all principals in Baltimore. Through hands-on work, as a middle school teacher, to leading Teach For America in Baltimore, Mr. Kannam’s career has always been rooted in helping children gain the very best education possible. Please join me in welcoming today’s moderator, Peter Kannam.
PETER KANNAM: Well thank you. And I’m very excited to be here. Jon, thanks for that warm introduction. It’s a great honor to be part of this distinguished panel and just be with leaders who are really committed to this idea of social enterprise, and really, how do we collectively make a difference? Because the power is in this room and with the people online. And we’re just really excited to really dive in and hear from the people doing the work.
And I just want to first begin by start—introduce everybody on the panel. First, we have Dr. Kathia Laszlo. She is the co-founder and executive director of Syntony Quest, an educational, research, and consulting organization grounded in social and environmental integrity. Under her leadership, Syntony Quest has launched the social enterprise Syntony Creations, a fair trade initiative that markets crafts made from recycled materials by interns of centers for social readaptation of the state of Veracruz, Mexico. And she actually brought a purse I wanted her to show, a little show-and-tell of what they have done.
And Dr. Laszlo is an accomplished professor who’s taught and advised numerous students on sustainable business as well as management. Currently she is a mentor of the Green MBA–Sustainable Enterprise of Dominican University of California, as well as a faculty member and executive certificate Green MBA of this same institution. She is also an esteemed faculty member of Walden University, mentoring students in the Doctor of Education program. So welcome.
Our second panelist—you may already know the next panelist for writing—The New York Times has coined him a must-read of social entrepreneurs and the bible in its field. David Bornstein’s book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, chronicles and analyzes the work of social innovators who are successfully addressing the social problems at scale in several countries. And I think we’re going to focus today on that, a piece of that scale, and what have we learned about how to bring a good idea to scale.
He is currently developing a Web site that shares stories and insights of innovative social change–makers. Mr. Bornstein’s newest book, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, co-authored with Susan Davis, will be published in January. So welcome, David.
Next, we have an on-the-ground social entrepreneur. Anthony Jewett, who I’m going to call Tony—he said it’s okay—is the president of Bardoli Global Foundation, which has provided study abroad leadership development opportunities to more than 130 minority scholars to date. His background is rich with social change initiatives that have taken him throughout the world and led him to receiving the 2006 Echoing Green public service fellowship, which we heard about earlier today.
Prior to that, Mr. Jewett earned a BA in international studies from Morehouse College in 2003, where his passion for study abroad and community service earned him both the Freeman-ASIA and Benjamin Gilman awards from the Institute of International Education. He is currently also a fellow in community and family philanthropy at the Zeist Foundation, Atlanta, Ga. And he’s also a proud alumn[us] of Teach For America, like myself, so. He is also a member of the Walden University community, where he is enrolled in [M.S. in Nonprofit Management and Leadership program]. So welcome, Tony.
And finally, we have the esteemed Dr. John Nirenberg, who has co-authored numerous books on leadership and management, including Global Leadership, Power Tools: A Leader’s Guide to the Latest Management Thinking, and The Living Organization: Transforming Teams Into Workplace Communities. Dr. Nirenberg has also worked as an educator and a consultant on management throughout the globe. He’s developed probe methodology, practical organizational behavior education, a student-centered and experiential technique for teaching organizational behavior to students in Australia. And also, while in Singapore, he organized the country’s first organization development network and really has a comprehensive understanding of starting up social enterprises, the challenges, the successes. Dr. Nirenberg is currently a mentor to doctoral students at Walden University. So welcome—we’re really glad.
And everyone, let’s please welcome all of our panelists here today.
So let’s begin. David, we were talking prior to starting this, first wanted to get a sense of the people in the crowd. And again, I know we have an online contingent out there. And we’re very excited about that. But just in the room, so we can get a sense, how many people in the crowd—and you can vote more than once. And this isn’t a test. You’re not going to be graded on this.
How many of you are interested in starting, potentially, a social enterprise? Could you raise your hands? Okay. How many of you are interested, after listening to Cheryl, thinking about working for an existing social enterprise? Okay. How about research? We noticed that there were many academics in the crowd. How many of you are interested in the research piece of social enterprise? Okay.
I think that gives us a kind of sense that we do have a good mix of people who are generally interested in the field. And we’re going to start with the themes. Like, what are we seeing out there, the major themes? We know that we’re in a really tricky financial time. But I think what Cheryl Dorsey kind of mentioned is that the glass is half full, is something they look for in Echoing Green. So in thinking in that way, David, can you start us off? What do you see emerging in the field of social enterprise?
DAVID BORNSTEIN: Well first of all, it’s really a pleasure to be with all of you. This is my second time being with the Walden community. And I think that you’re all really lucky to … work with a university that is really at the cutting edge of responding to world needs. And that really distinguishes Walden from what I’ve seen.
Just to frame—this is a really—I mean, it seems like we’re in a crisis. But I think we’re also in a very exciting moment in history right now. I mean, you heard from Michele, who’s a great intrapreneur. I’m she wouldn’t call herself that, but that’s what she’s doing in taking these ideas of social entrepreneurship and getting them into the highest levels of government in the United States. But that’s only one indication of really how much the world has changed in the last 25 years.
And even the field of entrepreneurship, which is still so new and, in some ways, not on everybody’s radar screen, has gone through a whole, sort of, several generations of changes. So if we look back on, say, the last quarter century at what we might call social entrepreneurship 1.0, if we think of it as sort of the Web, so 1.0 was really, as Michele and Cheryl were saying, was this focus on individual entrepreneurs and kind of this recognition that, hey, entrepreneurs build businesses. Entrepreneurs also build organizations that cause social change.
We’ve focused on the business entrepreneurs and we’ve financed them and we’ve put them on the Forbes magazine lists and all that. But we’ve really overlooked, for a long, long time, the role of the entrepreneur in creating social change. So there was that recognition. And that took awhile to sink in. And it really still hasn’t taken hold fully.
Social entrepreneurship 2.0, which probably started around 10 or 15 years ago, was this recognition that you really need to create great institutions to cause social change. And there’s a lot to be learned from 300 years or more of sector building in the private sector. So you had this big rush of people with management skills and financial acumen coming into the sector and this kind of commingling of knowledge from the business and social sectors in terms of creating great organizations.
Out of that came a lot of people who created these kind of interesting career paths, where they would allocate themselves back and forth, from social to business pursuits, new financing structures, and a lot of new social enterprises, and the recognition that there are certain problems, not all, but certain problems that really lend themselves to the creation of businesses. And you can really do a lot using a revenue-generating format. So that was kind of social entrepreneurship 2.0.
3.0, which is the phase that we’re in now—and I would say we’re kind of just entering it now—is really the recognition that social change requires a whole ecosystem. You can’t just have institutions. It’s like a forest. You can’t really talk about trees. Trees are not sustainable. They fall. But the forest is sustainable because they absorb trees and produce new growth.
So in the ecosystem of social entrepreneurship, you have many, many different actors who really have to come together and coordinate efforts to create sustainable change. You have, you know, the institution founders. You have the people who build the institutions. And then you have the whole landscape around those people who are the people who finance them, who write about them, who train them, who teach the kids, all of that stuff.
And out of social entrepreneurship 3.0, is this recognition that really a lot of this stuff happens accidentally. But you can create platforms to make it happen much better, where people coordinate their efforts much more successfully. So that’s one big recognition.
The other one is that, everyone can be and, in some ways, some people would argue, should be a change-maker, because change-making is actually a very powerful way to live. And the idea of being a change-maker doesn’t mean you have to start your own organization, but it means that wherever you stand at this point in your life, whether in college, in your families, in the workplace, if you see a problem in front of you, you say, “I have the skills and the understandings to actually change the situation. I know how to be a change-maker right where I stand, right now. I know how to take action. I have the skill of empathy, meaning I know how to put myself in other people’s positions so that I could form a team, which is the first step. And I understand the iterative failing forward process which all change involves,” where you take a step. You see what doesn’t work. You correct and you move forward, and so forth.
So that is a profound change and it probably, you know, will take 100 years to change our schools and our institutions to reflect the fact that we live in a world now where we need many, many, many more people co-creating solutions. This idea that a few people run organizations and everyone else works in them is more or less passive or that we teach children just to do well on tests and not to actually change their schools, change their classroom, change their neighborhoods is a very, very old idea. And I think that will change a lot.
Some of the key trends, just to quickly summarize, that I’m seeing that are coming up now is—one of them is that people more and more are sector-agnostic, which is to say that they see a problem that needs to be solved, and they’re not thinking, “Oh, I’m a businessperson. I have a private sector chip in my brain,” or “I’m a government person. I work through government or a nonprofit.” They’re looking to work through whatever tool fits, and sometimes combining legal formats, so creating new hybrid social enterprises and so forth. That’s a very big change.
And I think what will really accelerate that change, the integration of knowledge, is people who are intermediaries, who have a foot in different worlds, who know the language of government and know the language of social entrepreneurship and therefore can make those synapses fire. Because really the limiting factor right now to sewing society together so that [it] works much more effectively as a whole are these intermediary people who can walk between business and the social sector, walk between government and business, and so forth.
Another major pattern has to do with the fact that the key—and this really has to do a lot with intrapreneurship, the people who are within structures—key obstacles to social change are actually probably more emotional than they are awareness of the solutions. And that behavior change is turning out to be one of the major challenges almost everywhere. You know, if we want to get our problems solved, we really have to figure out, how do we get people to overcome resistance to change within structures? And what we’ve seen, that has to do with obesity. It has to do with stopping smoking. It has to do with, you know, Alcoholics Anonymous. We have many, many examples of how organizations have effected behavior change.
And I think what we’re now seeing throughout the sector, whether people are working in foster care or in prison reform, is, how do you actually get people to overcome their own internal resistance to change?
And finally—and this is probably, you know, maybe the biggest change—is really just integrating knowledge that is now kept in sort of pin factories in society. You know, Adam Smith said that we can really increase our productivity by specializing. And, you know, he used the example of the pin factory in The Wealth of Nations. Well, we have a lot of pin factories in our society.
So just for example, if you happen to be working in a hospital in a low-income community in the United States and you were speaking to a social worker and you said, “What would be the greatest one single intervention you can do that would dramatically improve the health care of people in this community?” the person working in the hospital environment would probably tell you to improve housing in that community. Decent, low-cost housing would be the biggest health change for that community.
Now the housing department and the people who work in the emergency room don’t talk to each other. And the doctors, when the patient comes in for asthma, doesn’t always ask the mom, “How’s your housing?” Because if he gets a response, “My housing is terrible. There’s cockroaches everywhere,” he doesn’t know what to do about it. And there are ways—a lot of social entrepreneurs are finding ways to actually integrate things that have been dealt with separately, and you can’t really solve separately, and pulling them together. So that’s just a very general overview of some of the major themes. And I hope it … [simultaneous conversation]
PETER KANNAM: That’s definitely very helpful. And what we’ve heard is, the integration and working with various sectors and not to be duplicative has been a theme. Dr. Laszlo, could you share, you know, some of your work and specifically around the green innovation and sustainable practice place where you live?
DR. KATHIA LASZLO: Sure. Well, first of all, it’s such an honor to be part of this panel. I want to start by saying that I’m a learner. Like, I’m on this journey because I love to learn and that’s what motivates me. So I have questions and I see needs. And I am trying to figure them out. And as you said, this is a very collaborative process.
So my role is to figure out who can help me and how I can help others to figure out what’s the next step that we can take, even if it’s a mistake, even if it’s an obstacle. How do we overcome it so that we can continue to make progress?
So this is a very process-oriented field of work, because you never get there. At least that’s my experience. But once you accomplish something, it’s, like, well, now you’re ready to kind of take the next step. I mean, we are talking about social enterprises as this kind of a new organizational species. In a way, they are hybrids. They are looking at themselves as very mission-driven and not so much concerned about what is the legal structure or what are the boundaries that have in the past somehow defin[ed] them.
At the personal level, I am myself that kind of a hybrid too, because I have a very strong foot in academia. I’m a researcher. I’m an educator. That’s kind of the way I see myself from a vocational perspective. But I cannot just live in the world of ideas. I really care about the practice and implication of those ideas. So that’s how I started my organization, Syntony Quest, to be kind of a branch, an arm for me to experiment and for me to engage with communities and with people in the questions that I was exploring that are very much related to social/environmental integrity. How do we redesign our systems, educational systems, organizations so that we can start to see less side effects in the way that we have done things in the past? All those problems that we have right now, they’re, like, symptoms of a very–lack of–deep lack of understanding of how everything is interconnected, so.
The business impetus to just focus on the profit end, well, we know that that created some kind of undesirable side effects. And then the response of the nonprofit community to really try to say, “Well, how do we balance that,” both efforts have been ineffective because they are disconnected. They are isolated. So how do we bring this knowledge and these perspectives together so that we can learn and we can innovate with the best knowledge that is already available? Because we have the knowledge. But, as you said, it’s not connected. It’s not interrelated.
So as a nonprofit organization—we did decide to start as a nonprofit—we started in ’98. However, that was kind of a result from a process of inquiry and of learning and of researching how to innovate development models that impact across systems. So from the very personal, like, what does it mean to develop citizens and leaders that are capable of being part of solutions, all the way to organizational change, how to create more healthy work environments, more healthy schools, and then looking at society as a whole system in which we can have better quality of life, in which our relationship with the natural environment is understood, and we see a part of that natural environment rather than an external factor to sometimes consider or not.
So that’s been kind of the context of my work. And in the last year or so, we have started working in the social enterprise, which is actually the first time that we’re moving into looking at a product. So our work is about education. It’s about leadership development. It’s about consulting in very—partnership with organizations in communities to figure out, what are the questions that we need to be asking and how to make progress towards more social/environmental integrity.
But when I found the people, the social workers that were selling these products, I just saw a crystallization of a beautiful process and something that had a lot of potential. So basically, again, I approached it from a research perspective and saying, “Well, we have a lot of stuff. And we like stuff. And we need stuff. So what would happen if we were to start thinking about, where is it coming from and who created it? And what if we were to start to be connected to the stories behind the stuff that we get?”
And I started to scratch the surface about what was happening in this prison system. I was just overwhelmed. And this is a work of love. This is a work of hope. These are people that really are putting their life into trying to come back to society, to reintegrate themselves as productive members of society, as contributors to society. And the sad part of the story is that most of them are in the prison system because of lack of economic opportunities. And when I ask them, “Okay, so you have another year, another five years. You’re coming out. What would you like to do?” so some of the stories I heard, it’s, like, “Well, I’m considering going to United States because I know that I’m not going to find a job.” And of course they’re going to be coming as illegal immigrants. And I was, like, “Oh my god.” So what are we doing? Or what is it that we are not doing?
So my work with this group starts with a commercial enterprise. Like, I’m selling these products. I’m going to ... fair trade certification because I really care about providing living wages and all of that. Also the material that they are using is being collected by their families and by local schools. This is food wrappers, like potato chips and cookie wrappers, that are—you cannot recycle it. They don’t compost. They go into the landfill and they last there for millions of years. But they are taking it out of the garbage. So this is postconsumer waste that otherwise would be just polluting our land and our water.
So I just saw so many things coming together. But one of the main objectives is to really test a social model of integrating people back into society. So one of the things that we are going to be doing is to create a cooperative, so that people, when they come out of the prison system, they join this cooperative. Because otherwise, they come out and they are completely disconnected from society. And not only that, they face discrimination. They are not going to find a job. And guess what? They just come back with another crime that usually is worse.
So it’s just a very vicious cycle. So creating a cooperative so that they can continue to produce fair trade products, it’s an opportunity for them to at least have that economic viability and to stay connected to their communities, rather than having to look for going somewhere else. And that also could be a platform for them to then [look] for another job after they prove themselves that they can be productive members of society. So I’m very passionate about this because this is all about human capital. I mean, the human capital of course—so the people that I am engaging in the inquiry and on the design and on the process to make this enterprise work, that’s one side.
But on the other side is people that are the recipients of lack of opportunity, the people that have not had an opportunity to educate themselves, to learn, to contribute in a just way. So there are so many opportunities like this. I mean, for me, this is just a little example of what is possible. But one of the key aspects from my perspective is this collaborative effort is definitely something that you cannot accomplish alone. And bringing together people that care, people that know, people that can is really critical for this to work.
PETER KANNAM: You know, the thing I’m thinking about is, listening to the [Echoing] Green, one of their criteria is passion about the topic. Really, there’s need everywhere, but what really hits home for you? And what is your passion that—you know, I love that image of being at a cocktail party and being able to talk about—you know, and not being able to stop talking about it. And I feel like we just have people who are so passionate about their topic. And that’s, I think, instead of maybe thinking about what the needs are and the trends that are emerging, it’s really, what means the most for you? And where do you want to make the most difference?
Dr. Nirenberg, I was just wanting you to kind of join the conversation around—but when you step back and look, broad picture, are there emerging places where there’s a real need for social entrepreneurship? I know that’s a big question.
DR. JOHN NIRENBERG: Actually, that’s the easy question. I would say we are at a transition point. But first let me say, paradigm and transformational, okay? I’m an academic. I have to say that. And I do believe we are at a point in history that is going to change the nature of our lives in this country. And I think what’s represented in this audience is the face of the future in the sense that we have experienced a 30-year period of an ideology that has completely failed, the idea that government has no place in our lives or should be kept at a minimal while industry would solve our problems.
Two issues—one, the role of government is governance. And to deny that is simply to deny a reality, I believe, that’s important to understand. Secondly, to have the faith in the industrial sector, the business sector, was misplaced for obvious reasons. Your presence here today, what you are dealing with is an example of what I’m suggesting is, I suppose, a third tax. And that is, you see problems that neither government alone nor business alone has been able to address. But they are worthy of your time and attention. And I certainly honor that. And I thank you for that personally.
But I also know that we’re facing what’s called the third tax, in the sense that business taxes us for its profits. Government taxes us for its wars. And we have to tax ourselves through voluntary contributions, through diverting all of our discretionary income to worthy causes and to events and experiences in our lives that will contribute to the betterment of our culture, our community, our society.
And in my community, I know there are 250 nonprofit groups. I live in a town of 12,000 people. This is in southern Vermont. And everything that’s important to do has to be done by the people themselves. The government has no money to do it. The local taxes are extraordinarily high, and the services are extraordinarily low. There is no outside contribution coming. And if we don’t do it ourselves, it won’t get done. And so 250 organizations means basically your free time is committed to your neighbors. Your discretionary income is spent on entertainment in support of a cause, a fundraiser, you know, a health care issue, or to help somebody in need.
And so I think we are seeing the future unfold. And what looks like social entrepreneurship today will be community necessity tomorrow if something doesn’t dramatically change at the national level.
PETER KANNAM: Well, thank you. I mean, we have, when we did the survey earlier, many budding social entrepreneurs in the audience here. So let’s shift the conversation now to the kind of hands-on experience in building a social enterprise. And I’m going to start with you, Tony. Just, you know, tell a little bit about your story, where you are. I mean, we’ve heard you won the Echoing Green, and then a little bit of your lessons learned, successes, early wins, and some pitfalls, and just the kind of hands-on experience of, you know, building it out. Then I’d love panelists to kind of react.
ANTHONY JEWETT: Cool. Can I see the hands of the folks again who are interested in starting a social enterprise? Okay. I’m going to give you the buyer beware again today, just like Cheryl did a second ago.
DR. JOHN NIRENBERG: Did you notice that so fewer hands went up this time?
PETER KANNAM: They didn’t go up so high … [simultaneous conversation]
ANTHONY JEWETT: Diminishing returns ... I will say that I never really intended to become a social entrepreneur. I think, like many of you, I recognized a problem that I thought was pretty important and pretty critical. And I thought about it. I became obsessed with it.
When I was a Teach For America corps member, I had been able to travel abroad. I grew up in public housing. And I was able to travel abroad six times between the time that I was in middle school, starting in sixth grade, and when I graduated from college. And I thought that study abroad was so pivotal and so transformative because it wasn’t just about travel. It was about a change in perspective and an understanding of what was possible for me and for my family throughout our lives.
And I thought the most interesting piece of this, when I went on these experiences, even in Africa, was that I was the only kid that really looked like me on most of these programs. And so it started to make me think that if global leadership, in sitting down at those decision-making tables, where, you know, the policies that govern society would be made, if we were missing from those tables and those experiences in black America, in tribal communities, and Hispanic communities, we were going to continue to be years and years behind our counterparts.
And so when I was a Teach For America corps member, I had tinkered with this, thought about this, and got a job at a KIPP school actually, as I was moving into my third year in the corps. I wrote a little paper and I sent it around to some people when I did the research. And I realized that 25 percent of the students in higher education were either African-American, Latino, or Native American, yet only 3 percent of the students who studied abroad were black. Only 6 percent of them were Hispanic. Half a percent of them were Native American.
And so I thought, “Well somebody should really be,” you know, “… doing something about that.” And I didn’t think it was me that would do something about that. And so I did a little bit of research. And I saw that people were providing scholarships for minority students to access, you know, study abroad programs. The problem with that is, you’ve got to know about the opportunity first. Right? And you’ve got to be able to apply those things. And throwing money at a problem had never really given the kind of systemic solution that we needed to see. We wanted to see a sea change effect. Right? How do we really move the needle to take 3 percent up to the 12 percent of students that they really represent in education?
And so I sent this paper around and a couple people responded. As a teacher, my passion was that I was going to work with kids and families. I say that I’m going to give you the buyer beware, because that’s the last thing that I really do. Not the last thing I do—like, I insert myself into that, because it keeps me grounded in why this work is so important and why I do it. But really, I spend most of my time—we work in three communities now, in Houston, Texas, in Atlanta, Ga., and in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina.
I spend most of my time having conversations about money and policies and human capital and strategy, many of those things that are not the touchy-feely, fuzzy kinds of things that really, you know, get us into this work.
And what we started out with—you know, there’s sort of a four-step process I think that many social entrepreneurs will come to this work with. And that is, you start off with the recognition of a problem. Right? “This is fishy. Something’s bad about this. Something doesn’t make sense.” Then you go to the definition of that problem, so thoroughly understanding it through data, through understanding who the actors are in the sector.
And that allows you to kind of put together what you think could be the beginning of a solution to it—right—whether it be programmatic if you’re in the nonprofit sector or a product if you are sort of starting a for-profit social enterprise. But the piece that most of us always forget is that once we’ve got that programmatic solution, there are business underpinnings that have to make that sustainable. Right? And there are those difficult conversations that we don’t always want to have and those things that make an entrepreneur an entrepreneur.
We live in Atlanta, where Arthur Blank is founder of the Home Depot, amazing entrepreneur who built one of the world’s largest retailers. But before he was a billionaire who built the world’s largest retailer, he had his kids out in the parking lot, giving people dollar bills to come into Home Depot, with his partner, Bernie Marcus. Those are the things that they really had to do that are kind of the backstory to it.
And so I would only say that in hindsight, and we’re actually going through a merger right now with an organization called the BrownBell Foundation who has been working on what we work on in the higher education space to produce what is now called the National Center for Global Engagement. And we’re looking at a portfolio of programs, from kindergarten to college.
I run our K–12 initiatives in middle school, elementary school, and in high school. And he’s focused—my partner, Marquis Brown—is focused on both the student talent level and the institutions that educate the large proportion of our nation’s minority students. And so I think in hindsight, I probably could have done without, you know, figuring out how to do financial policies and procedures. And I probably would have learned toward being more of an intrapreneur if I had it to do all over again. Because the United Negro College Fund has been doing some of the work that we started out doing for some time. And had I had some conversations with them, little bit earlier on, maybe I could have been an innovator, you know, inside of those institutions that funders trust and know a bit more, so it’s easier to get resources.
But that’s my buyer beware. But if you still know beyond that that there is a problem that nobody’s really tackling in the way that you see that it needs to be tackled, then I’d say, have at it.
PETER KANNAM: What I would want to hear is after the—you’ve defined the problem. You saw a problem. You defined it. But then the next step, you know? Because I think many people get to that spot but then don’t know where to go. Anyone can jump in, just kind of, you know, how do you take it from there? How did you get, you know, give us some examples of getting feedback around your proposal. How did you literally … Take us through some steps of how you put your idea into action.
ANTHONY JEWETT: Very briefly, I went up to Cheryl Dorsey when I was—Teach For America had its 15th alumni conference here in D.C. when I was ending my corps commitment. And Cheryl was on a panel, Cheryl; Alan Khazei, the founder of City Year, who may become a senator at some point soon; and Vanessa Kirsch, Alan’s wife, who now runs New Profit and was a founder of Public Allies; and Wendy Kopp.
And I went up to Cheryl afterwards and I said—I had just written this paper and floated it around to people and said, “I’m going to be an Echoing Green fellow.” She said, “Well good. And your name is?” And I shook her hand. And I went and I actually was enrolled in a graduate program at the time. And one of the things, one of the criteria for Echoing Green is that you couldn’t be a student. You had to be working on this program full-time. So I dropped out of graduate school. And I went and I wrote that essay, probably about six times.
Our first bit of funding came from Echoing Green. And then we had a philanthropist, Doug Becker, who is the CEO of Laureate Education Group, who found us on the Echoing Green Web site and called up and said, “We’d like to talk to you. We’d like to give you some support to sort of find your way around.” But it was shameless, almost, appeal to people who we felt like could understand what it was that we were trying to do, that I was trying to do, who would give us that little bit of support to make mistakes with, the patient capital that every enterprise needs to learn how your business really works.
PETER KANNAM: Yeah, so definitely actively networking and getting out there and talking to people. David?
DAVID BORNSTEIN: If I could just add to that, Tony’s story is really emblematic. I mean, I’ve interviewed, you know, hundreds of people. And everything starts this way. It really begins by somebody, you know, making a phone call and saying, “Hey, I have an idea. Can I have lunch with you and discuss it with you?” And you start a relationship. Or you already have relationships in your life, but they’re not based on friendship. They’re really based on—I mean, friendship is not a bad thing, but if you want to build something, you know, it’s really good to recruit people who really care about the same thing you do and understand the way you do.
I think all social change is really based on relationships, human relationships that are built. And they take time to build. You know, for the people who want to build something, you know, in the future, you know, start, think about those relationships now. And you can do an inventory or you can go introduce yourself to people and think, “Who are people who are working on the problems that I really care about that I’d like to get to know,” and, you know, go and try to figure out how you can meet them and talk to them and pull them in.
I mean, Bill Drayton basically defines a social entrepreneur as a mass recruiter, basically. And their job is to just go around to lots and lots of people and try to get them excited about their ideas. And so you’re just talking and talking and talking. You know?
So one really good thing—I always say to people, if they have, like—what are good skills to take, public speaking is a really great thing for anything in life. But it’s very, very helpful if you want to be a social entrepreneur, because it really helps you, you know, convey your ideas. It’s mostly communication. The job is 90 percent communication.
PETER KANNAM: I want to ask the question around, once you get the idea and you get that initial seed funding and you’ve been talking a lot and you’ve been selling a lot, and people are onboard, the measuring the social impact piece, how do you—could you all give, you know, what have been some challenges with that, some successes around, you know, the return on investment for the people who have taken that, you know, what you call the patient capital, and then now it’s time to report out? Kathia, how are you measuring social impact?
DR. KATHIA LASZLO: That’s a real complex issue. The easy part, I will say, is the financial part, like, “Are you viable? Where’s your break-even point? Can you scale it up?” so those questions which are kind of business acumen, as it was already mentioned. But when it comes down to the social and/or environmental impact that you are seeking to have, well then you start to venture a little bit into more quantity but also qualitative arena in which you have to figure out, what are the indicators that are going to really give you a sense of, are you making progress? Are you really having the impact that you have?
In my case, I take very serious[ly] the qualitative aspects. So one thing is in terms of numbers, like number of people that I am touching in a way, but in terms of qualities, like, what is the new awareness that comes from interacting with my organization? So that’s a biggie. Because it requires also a commitment to have those conversations and to build those relationships and to really get into understanding, what are people thinking? And what are people feeling, so that that can also be part of the engagement.
I think I agree that it’s all about citizenship participation. And participating, there are many ways to do that. So buying something that you understand, “Oh, that has a social impact. Well, that’s good.” But then, what else? Like, was that [the] end? Was that, like, done? I did something good today? Or did that open up, like, an inquiry for you? And are you willing to research more and to look at other options and other ways in which you can continue to be part of the solution? So for me, that’s very important.
PETER KANNAM: I saw you nodding your head, Dr. Nirenberg. Do you have something …
DR. JOHN NIRENBERG: I wouldn’t have an idea why you would see me doing that. Actually, I was wondering how many people who raised your hand earlier would be willing to sleep in your 1974 Oldsmobile in order to save the money from rent to invest in a school in Pakistan. No hands this time.
Well, if you read Three Cups Of Tea and the story of a person who, I guess, was willing to give his life in return for the events that occurred to him while mountain climbing and being saved basically by local people when he lost his way. The name of the author is escaping me.
AUDIENCE: Greg Mortenson.
DR. JOHN NIRENBERG: Yes, Greg Mortenson. And his commitment was to build a school as his way of giving back to them for their efforts on his behalf. And the story is the most phenomenal journey that you can possibly imagine, where he truly lived in his automobile in order to save the money that he would spend on rent and utilities so he could put that into his effort.
So I wouldn’t say that that’s a standard operating procedure. But it does address the issue of commitment and the willingness to find the resources where they can be found and not to give up so easily.
So again, can I have that show of hands, how many are going to start a business? Well, now there’s none? Oh, okay.
PETER KANNAM: Remember glass half full, not half empty. Good. David? And then we’re going to take—we have questions, and we’re going to turn to questions from the audience.
DAVID BORNSTEIN: On the issue of measuring impact, I mean, this is quite an interesting topic because it’s really been a big change over the last 25 years where people, you know, were measuring what they called outputs. How many kids came to the after-school program? It was basically how many chairs were filled? And they really moved to measuring impact.
Now measuring impact, it’s not really measurable in many cases. But you can very creatively create proxies for your impact. And every organization does a different thing. So if you look at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, they look at, have borrowers acquired a tin roof? Do they have food all year round? Do they have crockery? Do they have bedding? These are very, very tangible things that indicate if a family has moved from being what villagers consider poor to non-poor.
If you look at an organization called Roots of Empathy, which works in thousands of classrooms to teach children as young as 5 and 6 years old the skills of empathy, they look at how many kids get invited to birthday parties, how much bullying is going on, are the kids who are typically excluded more successful in navigating peer social interactions. These are really the most important things for children. And so they really focus on that.
If you look at Teach For America, their theory of change is not just to put a bunch of teachers in schools and impact the kids. They want to actually transform the American educational landscape by changing the leadership in American education and making sure that future leaders have experiences in classrooms and really understand the challenges. So they look at the percentage of their alumni who stay in public education and go on for careers, which I believe is around 60 percent.
So every organization has their own metric or way of measuring impact. But it’s really related to their idea of the changes that they want to create. And sometimes you can assign a number to it. You usually have to find a way to assign some sort of a number to it. But it’s not something that you can compare on a spreadsheet with—you know, like we can compare companies that sell coffee or cars by looking at one particular number: return on investment. We’ll never have that. But we can really get meaningful results nevertheless.
PETER KANNAM: Great. We have about 15 minutes. So I want to kind of go through questions now from our audience. I think that was a really great foundation for the rest of the conversation.
To anyone on the panel, for someone who is interested in moving from a for-profit organization to a social entrepreneurship organization, what should we expect? Will I be accepted with almost no nonprofit background?
DR. KATHIA LASZLO: Yes, if you’re willing to learn, yeah, if you remain open-minded and humble. I mean, basically it’s all about partnering. It’s about asking questions and seeing what people have to contribute to your idea. So absolutely. Go ahead.
DAVID BORNSTEIN: People are very, very eager to understand, to gain from—you know, like I say, the business sector has centuries of sector building that’s very, very sophisticated. I mean, a lot of nonprofit people have never heard the phrase “market segmentation,” you know, something like that. So there’s a lot that people have to give. But the experiences that I’ve had interviewing people from business who have moved into the social sector is that actually things are much less clear. You have many different stakeholders. They don’t all want the same things. And in fact, you have to—the job is sometimes more challenging. And so people think that they’re going to get to relax and do this easy stuff, and it actually turns out to be some ways, more of a challenge.
ANTHONY JEWETT: I would just probably caution against the thought that there’s that dichotomy there automatically, that moving from, you know, the private sector to a social entrepreneurship organization, which indeed could be a for-profit organization that, you know, just has a bit more clarity and emphasis that it places on its values and sort of bottom line stuff, so.
PETER KANNAM: What I’ve found in part of being Teach For America, New Leaders for New Schools—those are kind of social entrepreneurship organizations—is I’m watching colleagues go in and out. And that was mentioned earlier today, kind of. And there isn’t the kind of strict dichotomy, and the skill set’s welcomed if you’re willing to learn.
DR. JOHN NIRENBERG: I guess there’s a couple of things. First, I hope you’ve earned all your frequent flier miles before you move. Because you will be flying coach. But besides that, what is reported most often is an incredible sense of purpose that frequently is so life-affirming and community-building that all of the other changes are easily manageable, from high stress in one sense, in terms of financial issues and return, to social processes, which can very frequently make people crazy because of the continual consultation and collaboration and interpersonal relationships, the less amenable it is in the nonprofit world to be dictatorial and autocratic about so many things.
But otherwise, research and surveys that do show clearly that the sense of purpose and the feeling of a meaningful life [are] often on an increase that hadn’t been expected.
PETER KANNAM: This flows into the next question from Ben Cruz around meaningful purpose, and how do you make this work?
To any or all panelists, how can a social entrepreneur resolve the tension between starting and growing a nonprofit and earning a comfortable living for one’s family? Does social responsibility equal self-sacrifice?
DAVID BORNSTEIN: I would say absolutely not. I mean, in my experience, interviewing social entrepreneurs, sacrifice doesn’t come up. If anything, people feel very joyful in change. And actually the people I think who are sacrificing themselves are people who do work for 40 years that they don’t really care about to make a lot of money. In fact, they’re really sacrificing themselves at the deepest level. So it’s flipped in some ways.
From the point of view of what people need to earn, of course that depends on your family situation, how many people are depending on you, whether you have to support parents or grandparents and all that stuff. Those are very personal decisions. You can now make decent salaries in a nonprofit organization. And you probably can start a social enterprise now and have a vision of, while not getting wealthy, having a very reasonable livelihood. So I don't think people have to make some of the really deep salary trade-offs that they have in the past as much. They still do if they’re jumping from management consulting to starting a social enterprise, for sure. Although a lot has changed in the last year in that regard. But it’s not as much of a drop as it used to be.
And I do think that there’s more of a willingness to realize that actually we have been underpaying people historically who are doing this kind of work, and these notions of how—that you can’t make a decent salary or that a foundation will not let you pay your staff these salaries, those are actually beginning to … [simultaneous conversation]
PETER KANNAM: Yeah, I totally agree. And there’s a change afoot where the leading nonprofits and the innovators are talking with each other. And they’re realizing that in building out the capacity of their organization, it is a kind of war for talent. They need talented people coming in. And they have to be more competitive. And if you really look at, there have been studies done with the—and the organizations I’ve been affiliated with, Teach For America and New Leaders [for New Schools], who are looking across sectors and putting together competitive pay scales to get the best people committed to this work.
DR. KATHIA LASZLO: I would summarize it as a shift from looking at how to make a living to how to make a life. So yes, there may be some economic trade-offs. But again, your particular situation may be different. But the gain in purposefulness and of sense of worth just compensates everything else you can put—sacrifice. Yeah.
ANTHONY JEWETT: I’ll say a quick word about that. Just to be very honest with you, part of my decision to leave teaching, as I often say, was because as a young man—right—I thought—first in my family to go to college, all those other things—I just did not see a trajectory moving forward where I would be able to provide for my family in the way that I thought that I was supposed to be able to.
And then getting into the realm of social entrepreneurship, you know, that start-up phase is, like, you’re the last one—again, you’re the last one to get paid. Right? You make sure that everything else gets taken care of. And then as you’re building this out and you’re figuring out the financial model, then it starts to make sense to you.
But I also would, you know, take that messiah complex and let that go. Because that messiah complex is ultimately about you. And this work, the issue is not about you. And one of the things that I had to learn from, you know, a pretty intimate conversation with Cheryl at the Echoing Green offices is, as an entrepreneur, when you are not forcing your business to function in a way efficiently enough that you can’t pay yourself and other people and compensate them in the way that makes sense—not a whole bunch, but in a way that makes sense—then you’re not really doing your job effectively.
PETER KANNAM: We’ll take a last question from—and this is for Tony specifically, from Sylvia Ramirez Benatti. Hope I said that right. Do you think there is a role for higher ed in preparing upcoming social entrepreneurs to be effective leaders and managers?
ANTHONY JEWETT: Definitely.
PETER KANNAM: What would you have wanted to know and be able to do as you were taking this on?
ANTHONY JEWETT: I think I would have rather that there be some presence of social enterprise in either undergraduate or graduate courses of study at more institutions. I think, you know, in talking again with the president of the United Negro College Fund, we were saying, there’s got to be some way … Social entrepreneurship has existed as long as there have been social problems. Right? But this new name to it is something different, because a different group of people became interested in it.
And what we’re seeing is that we want—what Echoing Green does a good job of is ensuring that there’s some diversity in that pipeline, that folks are representing those communities that they’re coming from and, therefore, able to get with them.
I think that higher ed specifically has a really good possibility to make sure that folks who don’t have access to the capital markets, the traditional capital markets in the non[profit] sector, which are foundations which are traditionally linked to people with a bit more wealth, a bit more social history, I think that higher ed has a really good potential to help those folks understand how those capital markets work, how they can access them, and to create opportunity for a broader array of people to be social entrepreneurs.
PETER KANNAM: Anybody else?
DR. JOHN NIRENBERG: I suppose I have to answer that one. I would second Tony’s comments because there are some basic skills that are important, especially around capitalization and accounting and all those ugly terms that we’d rather not talk about. But aside from that, there’s also a lot to learn about moderating one’s own role and about how to share the energy in a way that is empowering to others without diminishing the cause. And you need to really learn the skills of organizing and building commitments among a variety of different people and skill levels and motivational levels and so forth that are just as important to keep the organization alive and thriving through good times and bad.
And that’s not often considered, nor are the outcomes, when we talk about investing in microcredit and all of these examples that are hitting the newspapers regularly now. If you look at the examples from Bangladesh and Muhammad Yunus’ efforts and BRAC’s efforts, and if you were to observe the women that are normally funded in microcredit terms and how their social system is so reinforcing, supportive, and empowering, until you see that mechanism, you don’t understand really the microcredit impact. Because it’s that social piece that we’re not really paying much attention to. We’re looking at the entrepreneurship piece, the finance piece, the return on investment.
But what they do is provide the skill building, the communication interaction, the organizational skills, the self-confidence that makes them—gives them the support for their success. And I can’t tell you—I was moved to tears to see this personally when numbers were so small but so significant and how lives were altered instantly by absorbing those skills and utilizing them to see their condition in life change because of their new access to resources and their new behaviors, most phenomenal thing in the world. And that’s not talked about. It’s all about the investment.
And so in terms of what higher ed can do or any educational resource, helping social entrepreneurs work, yes, the details of the finance and all the rest, but also that social piece in terms of what to expect when you change or influence a cultural environment or the internal operations of an organization you create and how to sustain the energy and keep that thriving as an empowering place in itself, so.
PETER KANNAM: Well, thank you. The discussion does not have to stop. We’re still here through lunch. Did you want to add one more last comment? Go ahead.
DAVID BORNSTEIN: One final, really practical comment. You know, for the way the group broke down before, for people who are interested in research, this is an amazing time. There’s so much research now to be done to find the patterns and principles in social innovation. I mean, there’s literally a gold mine of stuff happening out there. And it hasn’t been analyzed and catalogued and all that. I mean, really, there’s just extraordinary, extraordinary rich terrain to mine.
And for people who want to be intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs, I would say, load up your heads with examples. Because that really gives you the ability to spot patterns and see opportunities and reframe problems. There’s lots of people in corporate America, in Wal-Mart and Nike and GE who are intrapreneurs. And they’re transforming these companies from within. You can call them up. You can read about them online and call them up and interview them. And you’ll get to see—how do you actually cause change within a big structure like that?
And for the people who are the entrepreneurs, who want to start something, you know, the deepest question is, like, what do you care most about? I mean, if you’re interested in something now, you probably were interested when you were 10 or 15 years old. Because the biggest changes come from really deep, honest intentions. Other people can see how much you care. And that’s why they want to make a leap in their life to join you. So it really comes from a real clarity about who you are, the things that matter most to you, the influences of your parents and friends and grandparents, the stuff that really is in the fiber of your being. That’s really where it begins.
PETER KANNAM: Well, what a great way to wrap up the conversation. It’s where we started—it’s the passion, and the commitment needs to be there to really make a difference. And then there are people doing this work. They’re here. They’re budding entrepreneurs in the audience.
And I just wanted to just to encourage everybody to look into the social entrepreneurship, the field, not only joining forces with people but then going out there and trying it. Because we need—there are great social challenges out there, but there’s also great innovation going on.
So I just wanted to take a moment to thank our amazing panelists for their conversation today.
I’d also like to thank the audience for all the questions. I do want to apologize. I was not able to get to all of them. But we kind of thought that would happen. And thank you once again, for Walden University. Again, we’ve heard, when—David’s beginning comments, that just a university that’s taken this on and really making this part of the conversation. And just really appreciate Jonathan for organizing this educational discussion. And now I want to turn it back over to Jonathan Kaplan, president of Walden University.
JONATHAN KAPLAN: Well, thank you Peter. And thank you to all the panelists—Kathia, David, Tony, and John. Your insights were a wonderful complement to our speakers this morning. And I want to thank you for your observations and those insights.
I want to take this opportunity to give you some details on how today’s working lunch is set up. As I mentioned earlier, one of our own objectives today is to expand our thinking on the subject of social entrepreneurs and to spur action. And inside your program, you’ll see listed three topics for the lunch discussions—education, public service, and green innovation.
Please take a look at these topics and some of the content that’s written under each of them to determine which is the best for you in terms of your interests. And the education and public service tables are over here on the right side of the room, to my right. And the green innovation is over to the left. We have multiple tables for each topic. And at each of the tables, we will have a Walden moderator at each table to help facilitate the discussion.
Before we do move on to lunch and officially bring this year’s Social Change Conference to a close, I’d like to extend a very special thanks to our featured speakers this morning, Dr. Cheryl Dorsey and Michele Jolin, along with our esteemed panel for the last hour. All of you have shared very generously of your time. And we greatly appreciate it. So thank you very much.
And one of the real take-aways I have from this conference is the extent to which Walden University itself is a social entrepreneurship organization, very much committed to having an impact on real-world problems and applying the knowledge that our students gain and our faculty gain and all of us associated with the university gain, and applying it in meaningful ways to address social problems and problems facing our society as a whole. And we as a university are deeply committed to continuing to ensure that all of us are social change agents.
I’m also happy to announce today that we are launching a new interactive online resource called the Walden Service Network. Social networking has taken on like wildfire. And we believe service networking is a much more appropriate forum for our community of 70,000 students and alumni and faculty and staff to work with one another. And so there will be a place to go to connect online to participate in the many service projects that our entire 70,000-plus community of individuals is very much involved in. And we hope this community will grow and prosper, so that the work each of you do now will have greater impact, greater reach in the years ahead.
To those of you who joined us today, both online and here in person, I hope you’re even more inspired after the discussions this morning to have an impact and to make social change in your community and beyond. And I hope you’ll continue to practice what you learn, because knowledge is, as we believe here at Walden, truly most valuable when put to use for the greater good.
One last thought—I’d really like to leave all of us with one observation from a renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Please enjoy your lunch and conversation ahead. And thank you again very much for participating in the conference this year at Walden.