I have been teaching social entrepreneurship for five years at FIU in the Honors College and at MIT Sloan, which was made possible in part by my 3+ years as CFO of One Laptop per Child (OLPC). OLPC was started by Nicholas Negroponte and faculty at the MIT Media Labs to provide every child in the developing world with a connected laptop. OLPC started as a donative non-profit but converted to a social entrepreneurship model in 2009. I joined to carry out this change in business model at OLPC.
Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate physicist, says he teaches a new course to learn a subject. I do the same thing, but courses are better for organizing conceptual thinking and writing books I think is a better method to organize practical thinking. So when I think I understand the practical side of a subject, I write a book to confirm it to myself.
The first half of my new book, Scaling Social Entrepreneurship: Lessons Learned from One Laptop per Child, deals with defining social entrepreneurship. I do this in part by contrasting it with government, non-profits and NGOs. Two themes are developed in the first half of the book:
- Social entrepreneurship is a better model to solve social problems than the traditional ways and increasing in popularity
- Properly taught and modeled, over time entrepreneurship should not need the modifier "social" and the debate about the morality of capitalism can be put to rest
Organizing a social project is not particularly challenging, but organizing something that can scale to multi-country or Google scale is very challenging. In attempting such an effort one has to plan for worldwide coverage from the beginning. In traditional entrepreneurship, one gradually reaches the point of scaling after product/market fit and commercialization. In social entrepreneurship, early on one needs to find the model because lower operating returns and less startup capital do not give you the flexibility to iterate. This fact is even more true if you operate as a non-profit.
The second half of the book is devoted to the business model to scale a social venture. I strongly recommend in favor of for-profit companies in order to have better access to capital markets. I believe evaluation needs to be baked in from the beginning because access to social impact funds is becoming increasingly competitive. I advocate that one try to establish a movement to support the social objective, something akin to Gandhi, Mandela and King. That may look like a difficult undertaking, but OLPC achieved that objective--worldwide 1:1 computing for children. Lastly, I cannot say enough about the importance of partners to a social entrepreneurship venture and I recommend private sector partners.
The book is available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon. I would be happy to sign a copy of the book that you give as a gift. I also think it makes a fine introduction to social entrepreneurship for a corporation looking to transform its corporate responsibility program into something more substantive.