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Bornstein, Kawasaki, Changing the World

Last week Guy Kawasaki did a brief interview with David Bornstein, who has recently updated his book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Given that my previous posting on Mission to Learn focused on open educational resources and that I mentioned the micro-finance organization Kiva, it seemed to me this might be a good occasion to resurrect an interview we did with Bornstein in the old days of The Sophist, a quarterly online journal which was in many ways was the precursor to Mission to Learn. What follows is a "re-print" in its entirety of an interview with David Bornstein conducted by editor in chief Celisa Steele in the The Sophist, Number 9, May 2004.


How to Change the World: Can Social Entrepreneurship Be

caught up with David Bornstein to talk about his
latest book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs
and the Power of New Ideas
; social entrepreneurship; the
evolution of the citizen sector; and lessons learned and to be taught.

A Burgeoning Sector

In the first chapter of How to
Change the World
, David Bornstein tells a story of an almost
unnoticed worldwide dot-org boom–as significant as the dot-com boom.
To cite just a few statistics, the public service groups registered
with the Internal Revenue Service in the United States went from
464,000 to 734,000 between 1989 and 1998–over a 60 percent jump–and a
Johns Hopkins study of eight developed nations between 1990 and 1995
found that employment in the citizen sector grew two and a half times
faster than in the overall economy [1].

Although the numbers are compelling, they
don’t tell the full story of the citizen sector
(Bornstein’s preferred term for what is also known as the
nonprofit, independent, or third sector): “The growth of the
citizen sector is just a very rough gauge…. It’s
like saying economic growth is up. There’s still a lot of
poverty in the world; there are still a lot of other problems.
It’s just a general trend.”

Bornstein stresses the importance of
qualitative change over quantitative change, “There are more
organizations that are out there, but there are also more organizations
out there that are strategic. There are more organizations out there
that are connected to one another in interesting partnerships and

With the sector exhibiting remarkable
growth, social entrepreneurs–“transformative forces:
people with new ideas to address major problems who are relentless in
the pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take
‘no’ for an answer, who will not give up until they
have spread their ideas as far as they possibly can” [2]–are
increasingly important and prevalent. They have always existed, but
with the sector burgeoning, one of Bornstein’s basic tenets
is that social entrepreneurs can and should be supported by society.

These individual social entrepreneurs,
these citizens, are critical in driving the development of the citizen

If you think about the ancient, original
idea of what a citizen is and the responsibilities and duties of a
citizen, you get much more of the idea of a citizen being a custodian
of society, one who is actively involved in the creation of the kind of
society that we want to build. There are some very noble ideas attached
to citizenship. The original conception of it did not mean somebody who
doesn’t commit crimes and pays his taxes–which is pretty
much what people think citizens are today. It actually meant something
much more robust than that. I think that social entrepreneurs are
acting in their capacity as citizens, in that robust sense.

The Role of the Individual

Throughout the case studies and portraits
in How to Change the World, the social
entrepreneur appears as a driven, motivated individual. When asked if
social entrepreneurship relies too heavily on a few committed
individuals, Bornstein recasts the question: “Does the
corporate world rely too heavily on the entrepreneurs who build those
businesses? No. They’re the people who build the businesses.
Ultimately, they go away, and then the business will either succeed
after them, or the business will flounder and go bankrupt.”

But there are differences between the
sectors–in the citizen sector the longevity of the idea takes
precedence over the survival or profit of the organization.
“When a social entrepreneur has been successful at
demonstrating a new idea–at marketing it by going around talking to
100,000 people over many years, saying we should do this, we should be
providing micro credit to people, we should be supporting social
entrepreneurs, we should be vaccinating children, and this is how we
can do it–what happens ultimately if they’re successful,
their organizations don’t have to exist forever. The idea
that an organization has to be sustainable and be around for eternity
is a myth.”

Bornstein points to two organizations who
have championed an idea: “If you look at the Grameen Bank
[which pioneered offering small, collateral-free loans to poor people] as an example, or if you look at Ashoka [an organization dedicated to
identifying and supporting social entrepreneurs in their work] as an
example, both of these organizations could go out of business tomorrow,
and their basic ideas would have been demonstrated–certainly not to
their fullest potential, but enough to be able to say, ‘They
have been successful. They have altered the behavior and the mindsets
of people throughout their fields.’”

There are more than 3,000 micro credit
organizations worldwide. “If [the Grameen Bank offices] close
their doors tomorrow, it would be painful in the short term for most of
their borrowers, but the idea would still exist, and many other
organizations would continue to carry it forward. An industry has been
created; an idea has become sustainable, by virtue of the fact that
people recognize the value of the idea.”

For Bornstein competition and its refining
powers are important: “What you want to have is hundreds of
other organizations, if not thousands, that recognize
Ashoka’s contribution but then try to do it better
than Ashoka….”

The original entrepreneur becomes
dispensable if she succeeds in advancing her idea to change established
patterns and modes of thought. Comparing the role of the
entrepreneur to that of wooden supports around a sapling, Bornstein
says, “The social entrepreneur is like that for an idea. He
has to be there to support the idea until it’s deeply rooted.
At a certain point, the idea has its own life. It will be carried
forward by others.”

Returning to the Grameen Bank, Bornstein

The role of micro credit has only been
ensconced as an idea that’s not going away in the last
decade. In the 1990s, it really took off. But if you look at the growth
of micro credit since 1997, when there were 7 million people receiving
micro loans, and today, when there may be as many as 70 million,
according to the micro credit summit campaign, that’s an
enormous growth…. In 1997, when the Grameen Bank represented
almost a third of the entire micro credit field, it would have been an
enormous setback for the industry if the bank went away. Today, the
Grameen Bank’s borrowers represent only a small
percentage–under 5 percent–of total micro credit clients. The main
role of the bank today is not demonstrating the viability of the idea,
but reminding the new bankers to keep their focus on very poor clients,
not just clients who are easier to bank with.

The important factor is not the
organizations that are created to support an idea but what they
represent: the initial insight into how to address a problem or tap
into new possibilities. Bornstein elaborates:

What you’re really talking
about is the creativity, the innovation. You’re not just
talking about creating an organization. Anybody can create an
organization. You’re talking about the qualities that the
entrepreneurs have, constantly looking for new opportunities, seizing
changes, responding to new possibilities, and continually pushing an
organization to reach beyond where it’s been. Those things
can definitely be lost. If Steven Jobs had died of cancer when Apple
Computer was a year old, it’s very possible that that whole
idea–democratizing access to these powerful information tools–would
have faltered and had to wait for another champion. And who knows how
long it would have taken? Those are the sorts of questions you need
crystal balls to answer.

Listening and Learning

Jeroo Billimoria, founder of Childline
Social entrepreneurs create a vision for a better world and then plan
for that future. How do they do it, without crystal balls?

“Entrepreneurs are really famous
listeners,” Bornstein notes. “Almost everybody
who’s done research on the entrepreneur notes the fact that
you have these people who are very humble when it comes to listening to
others and yet very aggressive when it comes to pursuing their own

For Bornstein, listening is key to what
entrepreneurs ultimately achieve. “The deep listening is
really the deep learning–learning from others and integrating the
perspectives of others and really understanding how everything works
and constantly changing your map of the world based on a conversation
you just had.”

While listening and learning are
important to the development of the entrepreneur and her idea,
listening and learning are also essential to spreading the great ideas
that already exist.

How do we resolve ethnic conflict? How
do we teach disgruntled youth who have dropped out of high school? How
do we get them to recognize their potential and to want to be motivated
to participate in society? How do we create opportunities for disabled
people around the world? These are things that have been demonstrated
in parts of the world and in such a way that their ideas are very
useful to other people. We haven’t yet created mechanisms to
spread these ideas, these blueprints. People don’t look for
them; there’s a lot of reinventing the wheel going on right

To capitalize on the ideas that exist,
“Learning is the next major challenge. We need learning more
than we need more social entrepreneurship now. We have a lot of useful
models out there now that have no where near reached their potential in
terms of where they could go.”

Bornstein sees blueprints, franchise
models, and replicable systems as the best potential growth area for
the citizen sector: “The beauty of having social
entrepreneurs and business entrepreneurs is that not everybody has to
invent new models. Not everybody has to be supremely innovative and
have boundless energy.”

Businesses fail at a rate of at least 50
percent, but franchises fail less than 20 percent of the time, and
some, as little as 10 percent. For Bornstein, this is a strong
testimony to the value of documenting and disseminating ideas and
strategies. “The role of the entrepreneur is to develop a new
idea and demonstrate it forcefully, undeniably, then create the system
so that idea can get out there in the world where other people can take
it up and run with it,” Bornstein asserts.

What Can Be Learned Now

Effectively disseminating existing ideas
and specific strategies is the next big challenge, as Bornstein notes,
but what can be learned now from and about social entrepreneurship in

There is a lot the citizen sector can
share, especially with for-profit businesses, Bornstein believes.

What I think the nonprofit sector has
going for it is distribution channels; there are very large markets
around the world that the business sector knows nothing about. All
those micro credit organizations, they’re reaching 70 million
families. Every year, if they’re successful, the purchasing
power of those families increases. People like Fabio Rosa [a social
entrepreneur who works on affordable rural electrification in Brazil] are developing low-cost systems to rent poor people solar panels, and
when the clients get electricity, they’re going to buy water
pumps, TVs, electric showers. Ultimately businesses are going to want
to sell to these people, but it’s the social entrepreneurs
who understand right now how to find these people and serve them, and
that’s an enormous advantage they have…. Social
entrepreneurs are constantly defying the assumptions about what kinds
of things are possible and doable at large scale. This is an enormous
potential source of opportunity for the business sector.

Despite Bornstein’s articulation
of what the citizen sector has to offer, mainstream thinking tends to
encourage nonprofits to learn from for-profits, to become more
business-like. There are two primary reasons. One, the for-profit
sector is older: “Business is a much more mature sector. When
more mature sectors meet less mature sectors, there’s the
assumption that they have more to teach.”

Two, “The reason why the
knowledge direction is historically one-way is just a function of the
wealth and prestige of the two sectors,” Bornstein explains.
“The business sector is considered a
‘real’ sector; it has huge amounts of money,
employs the bulk of people in society, and it’s where the
power is.”

When the nonprofit sector is perceived as
a second-class sector, a “respect gap” is created:

That respect gap has led to the fact
that the sectors haven’t worked very well together. Social
entrepreneurs are the best way to break down that respect gap and build
bridges because everybody respects them. Take Muhammad Yunus [founder
of the Grameen Bank]–whether you’re running a Fortune 500
company or a nonprofit, you can see that this man is clearly a terrific
entrepreneur; he’s brought tremendous changes. The social
entrepreneurs who are really able to build up remarkable organizations
can grab the attention of people in all the different sectors and get
them to focus their eyes on what’s possible, and
that’s the best way to bring people together.

When asked if it’s possible to
learn how to change the world, Bornstein emphatically agrees, Bornstein
uses Childline, a 24-hour emergency response system for children in
distress as an example. Childline has grown from its first office in
Bombay in 1996 to 55 Indian cities today, and efforts are now underway
to develop the model in Africa and other locations.

“Can we change the world? Can we
learn how to change the world?” Bornstein answers,
“There are hundreds and hundreds of examples of systems
people have developed around the world that don’t require the
entrepreneur any more because they’ve been systematized, and
they’ve been spread to different locations and implemented by
different people who are not the original founders–so you know that
this idea, or model, is sound; it works. We can accelerate social
innovation considerably by making concerted efforts to look for and
analyze these ‘blueprints’ and then build
communication channels to disseminate them far and wide.”

1 These statistics
come from How to Change the World (Oxford
University Press, 2004), pp. 4-5.

2 This definition
of the social entrepreneur is taken from How to Change the
(Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 1.

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