Entrepreneurship enthusiast Karen Yuan brings word from the mouth of
a THE self-styled social entrepreneur, Bill Drayton.
Social entrepreneurship—that’s a buzzword that nobody really understands, but Bill Drayton defines it as any “innovation initiative for the common good.” At 71, Drayton is the granddad of social entrepreneurship, having coined the phrase himself about 30 years ago.
Drayton came to speak at Columbia on Thursday night about Ashoka, the social entrepreneurship empire that he built in 1980, around the same time the very concept of social entrepreneurship began. Ashoka has a network of over 3000 Fellows in 70 countries, with over half of them changing national policy in their first 5 years. Fellow Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Malala.
In a fireside chat with Ashoka Fellow Greg Van Kirk, Drayton focused on three major points. His speech was part-lil pellets of wisdom, part-call to action.
1. We’re all living in a turning point right now.
So this got a bit doomsayerly, but Drayton spoke about how everyone was living in a turning point in history right now. “Society is shifting from a system of repetition to a system of change,” Drayton said. “Before, our focus was on efficiency and repetition – assembly lines, school systems, and the like. But this system is failing, and change is the new game.”
According to Drayton, Detroit missed a turning point about 50 years ago, which contributed to its decline from a prosperity to bankruptcy. “If we don’t do anything, we could all become Detroit. But it wouldn’t take 50 years—it’d take 15.”
Do what, though? Drayton said to spot areas for creating value, and, more generally, to start practicing empathy.
2. Give yourself permission.
“Give yourself permission to change things,” Drayton said. He spoke about a 12 year old girl who set up a bicycle system to bring fresh food into the food desert of Oakland. It grew from her practicing empathy: Having an autistic brother, she would intervene in the mistreatment of special needs kids at school.
“The new system of change is inherently equal,” Drayton continued. “Everyone is powerful and everyone can give.” You couldn’t be a good person just by diligently following the rules. The most important skill you needed in this new world of change was empathy, like the young girl from Oakland. “Young people are not children. They’re ready to be change makers, too.”
3. Social entrepreneurship is not business.
Drayton was quick to stress that “social entrepreneurship” wasn’t about making cash. Many people thought of TOMS Shoes as an example of it, but the truth was that social entrepreneurship was basically synonymous with change. “I hate the phrase ‘scaling up’ when talking about an idea,” Drayton said. “If your goal is to double the number of students in your program, for example, then you missed the point. It should be about changing mindsets, patterns, the way things are done.”
Social entrepreneurship was actually more political than financial, since it was often an invisible mechanism that majorly influenced politics, such as activism for equal pay impacting policy in D.C.
Despite his emphasis against business, Drayton still preached teamwork. “The most powerful thing in the world is a big idea…collaborate on them.”
Social entrepreneurship via YouTube