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.