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.