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The New Heroes
Alex Steffen, 5 Jul 05

A number of readers have written in recommending The New Heroes, the PBS show about social entrepreneurship. I have some reservations about the label of "social entrepreneur," but I'm in favor of the principle of immediate action at a scale at which one is sure to make a difference, and the Skoll Foundation's social entrepreneurship house parties are an interesting idea.

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Alex, I hadn't read that article of yours concerning the term "social entrepreneurship".

You cover a lot of ground with your comments, but I believe your main point is that the concept of an entrepreneur conflicts with what's most essential in creating meaningful, positive social change. In your view, networks matter more than the "business cowboy" - a lone person with a competitive mindset.

I would say, though, that the best collaborative network in the world will be absolutely ineffective without the right ideas to get it started. Networks and collaboration are not new phenomena. And there are countless examples of well-oiled networks that really don't accomplish much at all, no matter how much time and effort goes in to their work.

Saying that we need to "swarm problems" seems to be the same kind of fuzzy thinking (ie, buying into buzzwords and concepts, which are often limited in their application in reality) as you seem to be decrying about the phrase "social entrepreneurship".

I just don't think it's an either/or situation.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 6 Jul 05

Actually, I think I was pretty clear that what bothers me is the cultural baggage attached to the term "entrepreneur":

"The problem with all this, again beyond the category error ... is that the myth of the entrepreneur in American business (singular, bold, visionary, sweeping aside the stale verities of the past -- which is really what we're talking about as the model here) is not a particularly helpful model for how innovative leaders ought to manage their affairs when looking to change the world today."

Obviously leadership and innovation are good things we should have more of, but what we call things matters.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 6 Jul 05

Interesting piece, and good to re-read your previous article about social entrepreneurship. I'm now working at the School For Social Entrepreneurs here in London (previously I ran the Global Ideas Bank).

The key is differentiation between terms, and what different organisations do. We focus on the individual with a project to help their community or address a social need that is currently going unaddressed. By "enterpreneurial characteristics", we mean persistence, passion, and commitment as much as some sense of innovation. Also, an important part of the course is that it brings these people together, forming them into a network (of SSE Fellows)and bringing them into contact with other people and organisations they could collaborate with.

I could go on for hours about differing definitions of social entrepreneurship, social enterprise and so on, but work calls.... ;0)


Posted by: Nick Temple on 6 Jul 05



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