In How to Change the World, a book that the New York Times calls “A bible in the field,” David Bornstein explains six qualities of successful social entrepreneurs, as discovered through years of research and hundreds of case studies. These include the following:
• Willingness to Self-Correct
• Willingness to Share Credit
• Willingness to Break Free of Established Structures
• Willingness to Cross Disciplinary Boundaries
• Willingness to Work Quietly
• Strong Ethical Impetus
Willingness to Self-Correct
“It is inherently difficult to reverse a train once it has left the station. It takes a combination of hard-headedness, humility, and courage to stop and say, ‘This isn’t working’ or ‘Our assumptions were wrong,’ particularly when your funding is contingent on carrying out a preauthorized plan. However, the entrepreneur’s inclination to self-correct stems from the attachment to a goal rather than to a particular approach or plan.”
Willingness to Share Credit
“For entrepreneurs, a willingnes to share credit lies along the ‘critical path’ to success, simply because the more credit they share, the more people typically will want to help them. But this quality, like willingness to self-correct, also grows out of motivation. If an entrepreneur’s true intention is simply to make a change happen, then sharing creddit will come naturally. However, if the true intention is to be recognized has having made a change happen, sharing credit may run against the grain.”
Willingness to Break Free of Established Structures
“Social entrepreneurs can cause change by redirecting existing organizations. Most of the time, however, the citizen sector is where social entrepreneurs find the greatest latitude to test and market new ideas. To be sure, there is considerable freedom in the business sector. But businesses are limited to marketing products and services for which it is possible to capture profits within a relatively short period of time. Many organizations that produce great value for society do not generate profits or take longer to break even than investors are willing to wait.”
Willingness to Cross Disciplinary Boundaries
“Independence from established structures not only helps social entrepreneurs wrest free of prevailing assumptions, it gives them latitude to combine resources in new ways. Indeed, one of the primary functions of the social entrepreneur is to serve as a kind of social alchemist: to create new social compounds; to gather together people’s ideas, experiences, skilles, and resources in configurations that society is not naturally aligned to produce.
“Faced with whole problems, social entrepreneurs redialy cross disciplinary boundaries, pulling together people from different spheres, with different kinds of experience and expertise, who can, together, build workable solutions that are qualitatively new.”
Willingness to Work Quietly
“Many social entrepreneurs spend decades steadily advancing their ideas, influencing people in small groups or one on one, and it is often exceedingly difficult to understand or measure their impact. Often they become recognized only after years working in relative obscurity…
“A person must have very pure motivation to push an idea so steadily for so long with so little fanfare. In his Memoirs Jean Monnet, the architect of European unification, observes that ‘one cannot concentrate on an objective and on oneself at the same time.’ To Monnet, people of ambition fell into two groups: those who wanted to ‘do something’ and those who wanted to ‘be someone.’
“‘The main concern of many very remarkable people is to cut a figure and play a role,’ he noted. ‘They are useful to society, where images are very important and the affirmation of character is essential to the administration of affairs. But, in general, it is the other kind of people who get things moving — those who spend their time looking for places and opportunities to influence the course of events. The places are not always the most obvious ones, nor do the opportunities occur when people expect them. Anyone who wants to find them has to forsake the limelight.’”
Strong Ethical Impetus
“One day I sent Fabio Rosa an email. ‘Why do you work on the kind of project you do?’ I asked. ‘Why don’t you just want to make a lot of money?’ I waited a month for his reply.
“‘I am trying to build a little part of the world,’ responded Rosa, ‘in which I would like to live. A project only makes sense to me when it proves useful to make people happier and the environment more respected, and when it represents a hope for a better future. This is the soul of my projects.
“‘Looking back, many times I have asked myself exactly the same question — since there are easier things to do. But this has been the only way I feel happy.
“‘Working on the kind of projects I do means to dream with a new world in mind. My projects always renew my faith in an harmonic way of living, without misery. With our intelligence, knowledge and culture, it is not necessary to destroy the environment to build. When people work together they are powerful; there is friendship. In the end, there is peace, harmony, tranquillity, optimism.
“‘If there is a deeply human motivation in all of this, it is that my projects are related to practical, doable work. We need to actuate and cause change. Even if the inspiration is romantic, it desires material results, a re-colored reality.
“‘About money — I need money. Money is very important to accomplish my projects. But money only matters if it helps to solve people’s problems and to create the world I described above. My projects help people around me to acquire wealth and in some ways this comes back to me.
“‘Creating projects, implementing them and succeeding, witnessing one’s dreams come true, is happiness. Money just makes it easier. For all these reasons, I work the way I do. I am a slave to my dreams, thoughts, and ideas. That is all.’”
Do you have these six qualities? How can you develop them further?