In a recent Harvard Business Review Article, Timothy Ogden made the case that the U.S. is out of touch with Social Entrepreneurship. His basic premise? Social innovations created by the rich, intended on helping the poor, are bound to fail.
Ogden, citing such lackluster American-borne social enterprises as One Laptop Per Child, says that there’s an “unrecognized truth of social entrepreneurship and innovation. The United States isn’t a leader; it’s a laggard.” The article begins and ends with the story of one of the most successful, at least in a public relations way, cases of social entrepreneurship: William Kamkwamba, a Malawian youth who built a functional wind turbine from trash using a decades old textbook, for less money than the average American 8th grader’s allowance. The conclusion from this and other related stories of successful social ventures from the developing world for the developing world is that a true understanding of need can be better attained by those in the who deal with scarcity and need in a way that Americans couldn’t hope to understand.
Not to take away from the incredible rise in green business in the U.S. and elsewhere, the article nevertheless makes a fairly credible case for a shifting of roles in the U.S. Instead of training entrepreneurs, Ogden argues, the U.S. and other wealthy nations should be focused on being Venture Capitalists for true social innovators in poor countries. Despite years of training programs like SCORE and the SBA, rates of failure among entrepreneurs in the U.S. have remained steady.
It’s an interesting argument. With U.S. money and advising, combined with developing world innovation, a powerful force for positive change could likely be achieved.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com, a green business incubator and membership website.