We couldn’t help but excerpt more of our Page to Practice™ interview with Paul Light. His answers to our questions about his recent book, The Search for Social Entrepreneurship are insightful, honest and funny.
CausePlanet: One of the central focuses of your book is the four components of social entrepreneurship: 1) Entrepreneur, 2) Idea, 3) Opportunity, and 4) Organization. Which of the four do you think is the most elusive for existing nonprofit organizations and why?
Light: Organizational excellence is the most elusive, actually, because it is the least interesting. Organizations are seen as obstacles to creativity; so is management. Nobody wants to be a bureaucrat after all. But organizations contribute mightily to success, and can undermine even the most powerful idea. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to scale, or grow, socially-entrepreneurial organizations to super-size, but not enough about how to create organizations that innovate naturally. Social entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a 24/7 battle against the odds; it can be a natural product of healthy organizations that encourage collaboration, creativity, etc. A lot of entrepreneurial organizations say they encourage trial AND errors, but when the mistakes are made, it becomes trial FOR error.
CausePlanet: Despite the fact that you present a robust amount of research to date on the topic of social entrepreneurship as well as conduct a study of your own, what is the biggest question you believe still exists?
Light: How do we solve urgent threats faster?
CausePlanet: If an organization seeks to be more socially entrepreneurial, what are the preliminary steps toward that goal?
Light: I’m a big believer in exploring the future. We rely too much on single trend lines extrapolated from the immediate past—we call that “muddling through” in political science; we adjust our trend lines using some increment of past experience. If the current recession has shown us anything, it is that the past is a very poor predictor of the future. Too much going on out there.
Not surprisingly, I’m also a big fan of research. Unfortunately, research is seen as an inconvenience for social entrepreneurship. Yes, we talk about measurement, logic chains, social rates of return, data-driven government, outcomes, and results management, etc. But too many investors view researchers as rather like babies on an airplane—sometimes cuddly, often exhausting, potentially dangerous, and certainly irritating if they challenge the conventional wisdom. We need to be more open to research even when it hurts—we have to be able to accept the truths about our programs, our endeavors. I’m trying to do that with my own work. I was wrong about many of the assumptions I made about social entrepreneurship back in 2006 (was it really that long ago?), and have been updating since.
I’m also a big fan of infrastructure. I like Winston Churchill’s quote about it. Here’s what he said of Great Britain’s victory in the 1899 Sudan River War: “Victory is the beautiful, bright-colored flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.” The same might be said of any social impact. Yes, there are great heroes; yes, there are great battles; and yes, courage is essential, as well as a good battle plan. But if you can’t get the supplies in the right hands at the right time with the right tools, you’re not going to succeed. Mundane as it seems, supply-chain management may have as much to do with ridding the world of Malaria as the vaccines we are working to develop. No syringe, no vaccination.
Learn more about Light’s book, The Search for Social Entrepreneurship, read the full summary by subscribing to Page to Practice™ book summaries. Or, find this summary at the CausePlanet summary store.