The Need for an Institutionalized Mentor Program in Social Entrepreneurship

As a field, social entrepreneurship is relatively small.   Consider the two leading organizations: Ashoka has had about 2,000 fellows and spent a little more than $100 million and the Skoll Foundation has spent approximately $250 million and supported about 150 social entrepreneurs or organizations.

As a student of social entrepreneurship, reading grandiose books such as David Bornstein’s  How to Change the World reinforces this myth that the field is impossible to break into.  As a young professional entering the field, I find it difficult to contribute my full potential because the field operates on a macro level, albeit I have been much more successful than many of my colleagues.

Human resource development is a key component to the infrastructure  of any field, but social entrepreneurship is  young and lacks the infrastructure of established fields such a law, medicine, and business that connect promising young practitioners with experienced ones.

One simple step to close this gap is to establish a mentor program.  While Ashoka, Skoll, and Acumen fellows clearly give back to the field, each should be required as part of their funding stipulation to support the development of a promising protégé.  The problem is not finding good mentors — Ashoka, Skoll, and others makes them easily identifiable — the challenge is to find quality protégés that will make good future leaders in the field.  A mentor program would have to create a filter process to only accept the worthwhile protégés so that social entrepreneurship (as a field) breeds a new generation of leaders.

So what would an institutionalized mentorship program look like? The field doesn’t have a single association such as the Association of International Emergency Managers, so it will have to roll out through established organizations like Ashoka or Skoll (full disclosure:  this post, in part, is based on conversations with David Porter who is working to establish a mentorship program for emergency managers).  One key to a worthwhile mentorship program is finding quality protégés who match the intellect and zeal of their mentors, but lack the experience; there would have to be a process through which practitioners or programs such as AshokaU could recommend protégés.

Another important aspect to a mentor program is that it goes a step further than programs such as the Acumen Fund fellows.  While internships, study programs and work experience offer a necessary component for the field, they don’t offer the reliability, long-term, or personal aspect of a mentor.  Ultimately, the difference is that work experience and internship programs are designed to benefit the experienced social entrepreneur, while a mentor program will focus on the next generation of social entrepreneurs.


opportunity or hindsight 20/20?

“YouTube serves up 2 billion videos a day. Twitterers tweet 750 times a second. Internet traffic is growing by 40% a year. The internet has morphed into a social medium. People post 2.5 billion photos on Facebook every month (the economist)” A quarter of Africans have a mobile phone.  The world has more than three times more mobile cellular subscriptions than fixed telephone lines.

There is an entirely new infrastructure being developed in the 21st century; it’s an information highway without a speed limit, regulations, int’l boarders, or any restaurants built on the side of it yet (Phil Auerswald, paraphrase).  It’s an exciting movement, but we must not forget to ask the difficult questions and wonder about the unintended consequences.

The Framework’s built.

“The last decade was the decade where the social framework was built” such as facebook and twitter, suggests Seth Priebatsch.

The next is about leveraging it.

The Economics of a $35 Computer

The minister for health and development of India in partnership with an IT company released a tablet computer this summer for $35.

Kapil Sibal Unveiling the Laptop

It comes with a number of applications such as video conferencing application, a multimedia content viewer, Open Office suite and media player.  Keeping in mind the infrastructure challenges of developing countries, a solar panel has been included for a little extra.

In most parts of the world computers aren’t household items because they are produced for rich countries where demand is high enough to support advanced technology.  Econ 101 is about the relationship supply has with demand, of course.  Supply and demand are natural forces guided by Adam Smith’s invisible hand, you’d be told.

But sometimes, it’s easy to miss the simple fact that demand is a function of income.  High or low demand in a market is determined by the average amount of income in that market. Income is not a natural force guided by an invisible hand, it is a human force that is determined by your proximity to wealth, education, and the social circumstances that surround you.

There is now a supply of computers that works for developing populations because it matches the income of the developing market.

Think about the potential for technology that is produced for people living at the bottom of the pyramid.  That includes about 3 billion people, who are (somewhat literally) dying to enter the world economy.  5 billion people on earth have cell phones!  They have the potential for them to enter the market, one innovation at a time.  Our generation has the opportunity to make the world economy work for the everyone, not just the few of us living at the top.

But the point I make in Part II of my study, still holds true. What good is technology if there is not regional collaboration of social entrepreneurs that promotes the improvement of all human development — across sectors. Is a $35 computer any good if half of the people in a region are illiterate? What if 25% of people in the region die of HIV/AIDS before 25 years of age? How about if the government is corrupt and blocks access?

Ultimately, there must be collaboration among the sectors; public-private partnerships must accelerate social innovation by supporting it regionally and by bringing together all sectors for human development.

100 reasons not to be a (social) entrepreneur

I had an interesting lunch  the other day with a friend, Drew Chafetz, who is a successful social entrepreneur.  His organization, builds soccer fields in poor areas around the world.

After talking business, I asked about how he is personally these days and how does being a (social) entrepreneurial affect him personally?  He responded, “I would never — or very rarely — recommend someone do this for a living. “

Overall, I would say that he has been successful:  he has talked about his enterprise at Harvard Business School; has some of the top contacts in the Inter-American Development Bank; has support from professional soccer players; and still he doesn’t recommend the lifestyle as a social entrepreneur.  His last big push for his organization might be the possiblity of having Adidas and The World Cup sponsor his organization to build 12 soccer fields in all 12 Brazilian cities where the Cup will be in 2014.

There are 100 reasons why not to be an entrepreneur…100 ways it affects you personally…100 daily struggles.  Is it worth being an entrepreneur after you  remove the glory, money or respect that you get?  Can passion be traded for less income over the long-term?

Drew, I assume, doesn’t make a killer income b/c he is a small nonprofit working in the low-profit end of the market. His reward is helping the poorest people on earth play the game he loves.  He trades profit for passion.

It seems that a lot of passionate social entrepreneurs get worked to death — that is, they work their passion to death.  I think out loud:  if a (social) entrepreneur is not earning an income that satisfies his/her lifestyle and they are not breaking through to celebratory status, how long can they drive off passion alone?

WHAT REALLY DRIVES YOU? Passion?  Profit? Reputation?…and how long will it keep you going through the tough days?

Social Entrepreneurship’s Achilles Heel, Part II of study

Social entrepreneurship has emerged over the past few decades as a force that can Change the World (see David Bornstein, How to Change The World).  It’s true; many social entrepreneurs are solving global problems.

Other social entrepreneurs are focused on national issues, such as J.B. Schram’s College Summit, an organization that increases the college enrollment rate of underrepresented students in higher education.  Even some are focused on local issues, such as Jeffery Canada’s organization Harlem Children’s Zone which works in the “100-city-block area in Harlem, NYC.”  All social entrepreneurs use high-leverage approaches to produce sustainable social impact at some level.

Victoria Hale revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry.  Mohammad Yunnis won the Nobel Peace Prize for transforming the banking industry’s treatment of the poor.  Vicky Colbert has modernized education in Latin America. All of these social entrepreneurs were industry experts in their fields before their lives as social innovators.  They were able to bring a wealth of experience from their backgrounds in pharmaceuticals, economics, and education, receptively, to transform their industries for sustainable social change.  There is, however, one niche that has been considerably overlooked, and the reasons for it is found in the nature of the social entrepreneur.

Social problems do not exist in a vacuum — within a specific industry — they cross geographic, political, and economic boundaries.  Individuals working in one industry cannot solve a community’s needs.  No matter how cross-sector their means, their ends must also cross sectors, and they rarely do.  Technology may be an exception when it allows people from different industries take advantage of it, such as cell phone technology helping MFI, health care workers, and disaster recovery.  However, it too only has limited impacts on an entire community.

Bill Drayton misses part of the picture with his well-known quote, “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”  We can not rest when we revolutionize an industry because the sum of the parts — health care, education, income, technology, and nutrition–  are smaller than the whole of a community.  For social innovation to truly achieve the change it’s capable of, social entrepreneurs must work together at a regional/community level.

The next in this series of paper examines what a regional approach to social innovation consists of.

Why here, why now? Part I of paper on regional social innovation.

Metropolitan Washington, DC is a prosperous region and one with great need.   It is home to more than 1500 foundations — worth a total of $13 billion —  and 15,000 registered nonprofit organizations.  Its GDP is one of the largest in the nation with approximately $400 billion.  38% of households in the region are worth between $200,000 and $5 million.  And it is host to the most prosperous government on earth.

Despite the prosperity, there is great need.  More than 30% of the city’s children live in poverty.  It has one of the worst graduation rates in the nation.  The region is divided East-to-West by wealth, race, education, and income.

The good news is that we have the ability to bridge this divide.  It’s going to take a pattern-breaking partnership among the sectors –government, philanthropy, business and individuals — where the region’s wealth and innovation is found.

Social entrepreneurship is uniquely set in the national capital region to bridge these sectors.  The region is a powerhouse of social innovation with many of the major national and international players calling it home, including: Ashoka, College Summit, Kaboom!, The Case Foundation, The White House Office of Social Innovation, The Social Enterprise Alliance, Venture Philanthropy Partners, George Mason University, and many others.  However, there is no central organizing agent to unleash the full potential of social entrepreneurship as a driving force within the region, for its needs.

This blog promotes the need for an office of Partnerships for Social Innovation in the Washington, DC region.  It does so by releasing sections of an upcoming scoping study on the topic and through interviews, meeting notes, and discussions with regional leaders.  The scoping study examines how each sector — government, philanthropy, business, and individual wealth — is uniquely positioned in the region to support social innovation.

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