Can Anyone Be a Social Entrepreneur? Is Everyone or Anyone Truly a “Change Maker”?

Bill Drayton, Ashoka’s founder, and I agree on many things, but on Ashoka’s rallying cry of “everyone a changemaker,” we’ve agreed, politely, to disagree.

That everyone on the planet, all 6.8 billion of us, has a stake in the future, whether she’s a bottom billion mother foraging to feed her family or a climatologist calculating ice core evidence of global warming, is not a point of debate. Everyone has needs, everyone has rights, everyone deserves the chance to live a decent, productive, healthy life. Given satisfaction of their elemental needs, most human beings will move from the core commitments to self and family to become contributing members of their tribes, communities, and societies. But such acts of participatory citizenship are not change-making. In fact, the business of serving one’s community almost always serves to reinforce social structures and traditions.

The individual who identifies an opportunity to change a system is, I submit, a rare being. Most educated, reasonably well-off people can spot social problems—failing schools, overconsumption and waste, homelessness; some percentage of those may want to contribute to a cause that’s tackling the problem; an even smaller number probably has had an idea for how to address the problem, with only a handful who go on to launch charter schools, recycling programs, or shelters in their communities. You’ve probably figured out where I’m going here, but getting to the point, there’s big difference between the citizen who deplores his community’s poor schools and the individual who establishes a new charter school—and an even bigger difference between that worthy individual and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America.

Think of it as acts of citizenship along a spectrum, from making a contribution, to making a difference, to making change. All are positive acts of citizenship and necessary to any well-functioning, productive society. Change-making, I’d argue, is in its own league when it comes to productivity. Back to entrepreneurship for a moment. The eighteenth-century French economist Jean-Baptiste Say’s memorable characterization of the entrepreneur as one who creates economic value by shifting resources from areas of low productivity to areas of high productivity applies to social entrepreneurs as well.

An example: Vicky Colbert’s Escuela Nueva addresses educational inequity throughout Latin America not by building one-off schools, but by transforming curricula and creating the community-based and national structures needed to adapt that curriculum to meet indigenous needs. Our portfolio at the Skoll Foundation includes several outstanding social entrepreneurs advancing large-scale, systemic solutions to educational inequity, among them Ann Cotton, J.B. Schramm, Eric Schwarz, John Wood, and Wendy Kopp. Nothing about these individuals, their ventures, or the change they are driving is in the realm of what any ordinary or reasonably effective person could pull off. Making a difference is tough stuff, but making change—transformational, lasting change—is in a class of its own.

Comments

Everyone a Changemaker

Sally —

Great points, but isn't there a distinction to be made between change makers and entrepreneurs? When I think of a change maker, I think of someone who is control of their own destiny and is capable of acting on their environment rather than reacting (the example you gave of setting up a recycling program comes to mind). When I think of an entrepreneur, I think of more the system change that you described...

Isn't that a worthwhile distinction? And if it is, isn't "Everyone a Change maker" something worth aspiring to? After all, Wendy Kopp is certainly a visionary, but Teach for America would be nowhere without her extremely talented team, not to mention her donors and corp members (and some even say that she's more of a figure head/fundraiser than anything -- which wouldn't be a bad thing; after all, only ineffective organizations rely completely on one person).

My point is that those "rare individuals" are much less valuable than you submit in this piece. They rely on large, talented teams of everyday change makers, less celebrated but no less necessary.

James

"rare individuals" are much

"rare individuals" are much less valuable than you submit in this piece. They rely on large, talented teams of everyday change makers, less celebrated but no less necessary."

-James

BOOM!

If anyone understands what a

If anyone understands what a social entrepreneur is, it is Ashoka and Skoll - so I don't think there is much of a disagreement, but rather a misunderstanding of Ashoka's use of the term 'Changemaker'. Ashoka uses the term Changemaker to describe someone that is NOT a systems-changing social entrepreneur, but an individual who can make change within their sphere of influence, whatever that may be. Their vision for an 'everyone a Changemaker world', is a beautiful one - encouraging those who aren't equilibrium-shifting entrepreneurs to be problem solvers in their communities, workplaces, etc. Will every single person become a Changemaker? Probably not, but worth striving for, as are the visions of many organizations, i.e. end global poverty, end homelessness, and so on.

I think Ashoka's introduction of this Changemaker concept is so important for two reasons: first, because it allows the everyday person to believe they can make a difference without having to be the heroic social entrepreneur - which as we know, is not something you just wake up and decide to be; but it puts changemaking within reach. And second, because creating a title for the everyday idealist is critical should we strive for a sound definition of social entrepreneurship lest it "fall into disrepute".

A quick review of http://www.ashoka.org/visionmission would be useful, as the Mission describes social entrepreneurs and Changemakers as two different sets of actors. Ashoka could probably be more consistent with their distinction - as the terms are often used interchangeably.