In the wake of the Skoll Conference at Oxford comes the NYU Conference also on Social Entrepreneurship. Maria Nardell and Josh Moore provide an excellent commentary.
To put the conversation about social entrepreneurship in a more personal context: I was speaking in the last few days with two friends. The first is a Harvard MBA, in mid career. He has had a diverse and successful history in business, often with a social focus, and he has been active in progressive philanthropy. As an entrepreneur he is a visionary. (I sometimes ask him, when he gives his plans for the future, "OK, Napoleon, you and what army?") He said to me recently, "You know, I want to do good. I have looked at nonprofit jobs and they don't pay anything. Plus nonprofits so often are disorganized feel good efforts. I want scale, and social results, and I want to make a decent buck. The investors I talk to feel the same way." By contrast, and it is an interesting contrast, the second friend is also a social entrepreneur, or change agent, but in the spirit of, say, a visionary like Susan B. Anthony. (Her nose wrinkles when she hears the biz-school buzz words. "Lucre," as in filthy lucre, is a word she might use, or a word that would make her smile in recognition.) For her money is an encumbrance. She lives simply, gives away as much as she keeps, and follows the Biblical injunction to be like the birds of the air, not worrying about scale or businesses plans, or her own finances. Both of these friends are acknowledged leaders, both are people I admire, and whose friendship I cherish. Both could be described as "elite," in that both are highly educated and well-connected. Both are passionate about social justice and about democracy. Both are from families in the public eye. Both are the expression of a multi-generational commitment in their respective families to "giving back," "paying it forward," public service, and to being a good person, and a role model in a difficult and dangerous world. I find that the two approaches are not "rivalrous," though one person may be passionately devoted to one, and disparage the other. I had the good fortune earlier this week to introduce my two friends to each other face to face. I think they may well become friends. We need more of both approaches; I wish both friends well.