This is part of a series of articles by MBA students at California College of the Arts dMBA program. Follow along here.
By Isaac Buwembo
There are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations (NPOs) in the United States alone (NCCS). Is starting a new NPO the answer to our most pressing social issues? Civil society has long used this organizational structure to unite like-minded people to rally behind a broad range of issues such as breast cancer screening for women, teenage pregnancy, inner city education, maternal health, environmental protection, and poverty eradication, to name just a few. Is it possible to get more out of existing social sector organizations? How might we create conditions for collaboration in order to enhance civil society’s impact on shaping the world of tomorrow?
Civil society needs to think about how to get more impact from what currently exists. Starting new organizations is a means, not an end. Budding social entrepreneurs need to focus on finding approaches to maximize collective knowledge, experience, and skills to address social issues. Funding models need to focus on incentivizing synergistic approaches to address today’s social issues. With these constraints social innovation will realize more value from existing efforts.
This social reconfiguration is happening, but it needs to be inherent to the social sector the way open source philosophy is inherent to the scientific community. Social reconfiguration is a shift in perspective that embodies the spirit of collaboration, networking, synergy, and uncovering what works as a community. The momentum is building. TED and TEDx have used digital media and the Internet to accelerate the exchange of ideas about what’s possible today and what could be in the future – curating content from all fields of study, forms and functions. Efforts like these are beginning to penetrate the mainstream.
In the December 2011 issue of Forbes Magazine, the first Forbes’ List of the Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs was published. Understanding the models of these 30 innovators is important for budding social entrepreneurs. Sustainable revenue models, fundraising, recruiting and retaining talent, scaling and measuring impact are execution challenges facing most entrepreneurs. While recognition and contributions to the discourse are all good things, opportunities for social entrepreneurs to address the key execution challenges and support systems that foster replicable or scalable impact are required to change the world.
Social entrepreneurs working independently is inefficient. Networks are critical for social entrepreneurs to scale their impact. Efforts by Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, Acumen Fund Fellows Program, IDEO.org and OpenIDEO are creating conditions for social entrepreneurs to collaborate, share and learn together in order to tackle society’s most intractable social issues. We need more efforts like these. Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka, said it best, “community multiplies strength and impact.” Networks are the key to scale. Networks are the key to lasting impact. Networks are the key to changing the world. Although it might start with one person, it takes a community to replicate and scale impact.
Tips for budding social entrepreneurs
Consider asking the following questions before building something new:
- Who else is trying to address this social issue and how might we learn and work together to change the world?
- If efforts A, B, and C are currently underway addressing the same problem space, how might we foster collaboration, synergy and impact?
- What element from approach X might enable approach Y to scale its impact and how might we test this?