Poverty Reading List

How to Change the World

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
by David Bornstein

Written in 2003 and updated in 2007, Bornstein’s book takes a look at the growing emergence of what he calls social entrepreneurs … entrepreneurs who are innovating in ways which bring significant new social/societal (and often economic) benefits. His book primarily uses examples from Ashoka, a key leader in identifying and supporting leading social entrepreneurs.

I enjoyed the case study format covering social entrepreneurs from many countries whom Bornstein personally interviewed over a multiple year period. Each of these people had an idea and the These include:

  • Fabio Rosa, a Brazilian who seeing many rural communities left behind without electricity, pressed for practical technologies and models which resulted in significant additional reach of electricity to rural farming communities.
  • Jeroo Billimoria, who grew up in a well-off Bombay family, founded Childline, a 24-hour helpline and emergency response line for children in distress (first in Bombay and then in many other Indian cities.)
  • J.B. Schramm, an American who founded College Access to enable poor (and mostly non-white) high-schoolers not on the college track to be better equipped and through the process of applying for going to college.

Ashoka’s model is to high-potential find social entrepreneurs in their “startup” stage and then support them through the Ashoka Fellows program providing a relatively small, personal stipend to enable them to further develop and implement their ideas . The book explains the Ashoka selection model where candidates are proposed and then there is a rigorous review process before someone is elected as a fellow. Critical factors in selection are the person having an idea that has the potential for large scale (national or international) social impact and the person’s lifetime dedication/commitment to figuring out how to actually implement it.

Here are a couple of interesting observation Bornstein made:

  • Ideas aren’t sufficient. There are lots of ideas that go nowhere. It requires a person to move from an idea through the complex process of implementation/realization.
  • “Most of the fellows I interviewed said that the credibility, confidence, contacts, and ideas they gained through Ashoka were more valuable than the money.” (p.243)
  • From Jean Monnet, the architect of European unification, in his Memoirs, that “people of ambition fell into two groups: those who wanted to ‘do something’ and those who wanted to ‘be someone’.” Effective social entrepreneurs fall into the former. (p.243)
  • “…social entrepreneurs are not selfless. If anything, they are self-more in the sense that they heed their instincts, follow their desires, and aggressively pursue their ambitions.” (p.287)
  • “…people who solve problems must somehow first arrive at the belief that they can solve problems. This belief does not emerge suddenly. The capacity to cause change grows in an individual over time as small-scale efforts lead gradually to larger ones.”

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to people who are interested in learning more of the history/story of Ashoka and to see the positive change that social entrepreneurs are making despite their minimum coverage in the media.

Read my full review.

One thought on “How to Change the World

  1. Hi Dave, Cathy Shea here… I have been trying to link to you to say hi and add you to my network. Since I do not have your email, cannot actually do that through LinkedIn. Anyway, glad to find you and Sharon and see the wonderful things you are involved with. Happy New Year! –Cathy and George Shea, Mill Valley CAcathy@cathrynshea.com 415-381-1915


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