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David Bornstein (right) and J.B. Schramm share their insights about the theory and practice of social entrepreneurship during a recent Kellogg School speakers event.

‘Power of new ideas’ on display at Kellogg School

By Matt Golosinski

3/1/2004 - Small returns can add up to a big difference over time, as any investment adviser will maintain. So too in the world of social entrepreneurship, according to experts who spoke at the Kellogg School on Feb. 24.

Thinking locally to solve serious problems by employing creativity, passion and often modest financial means is the hallmark of a social entrepreneur, said David Bornstein, a journalist who has researched this kind of philanthropy and written two critically acclaimed books about it, including the newly published How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford UP).

Bornstein shared his insights with about 80 Kellogg School faculty, students, staff and nonprofit community members as part of a speaking engagement co-hosted by the Kellogg Social Impact Club, the Kellogg Emerging Markets Club, the Ford Center For Global Citizenship, and Ed Inc. Joining him was J.B. Schramm, Chicago-based social entrepreneur and founder of College Summit, an organization that helps prepare and support low-income students making the transition from high school to university.

Whether it’s a lack of rural electricity in Brazil, an informational “disconnect” that prevents minorities from advancing to college, or widespread homelessness among children in India, Bornstein said social entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to meet these challenges.

“Social entrepreneurs figure out ways to ‘bottle’ a process that works” on the local level and then extend it more broadly, said Bornstein, who spent much of the last decade researching “the worldwide explosion of dot-orgs,” while most mainstream attention focused on the relatively smaller dot-com boom.

Sometimes the entrepreneurial tools are simple, he added, but the results can be extraordinary and even influence public policy.

Such was the case with Jeroo Billimoria, founder of Childline, a 24-hour free telephone helpline for India’s 48 million street children, and one of the examples of social entrepreneurship’s power that Bornstein mentioned. Childline has “streamlined and synthesized” the bureaucracy associated with this community crisis, said Bornstein. Founded in 1999, Childline’s model has been exported to three countries in Latin America and continues to extend its influence throughout India.

Though the majority of social entrepreneurs begin their efforts on a local stage, over time their organizations can grow to have remarkable regional or national impact, said Bornstein. He cited the example of Bangladesh-based microfinance institution The Grameen Bank, founded in 1983 by Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor who saw the need and potential benefits (in both social and financial terms) of extending credit to the very poor. Yunus began his enterprise with seven borrowers in one village; today, the bank boasts nearly 1,100 branches across 37,000 villages, serving some 2.1 million borrowers.

“The Grameen Bank launched the microfinance revolution,” said Bornstein.

Bornstein also highlighted the success of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, a pioneer in bringing venture capital strategies into the world of philanthropy, founded in 1980 by former McKinsey management consultant William Drayton.

Bornstein said that Ashoka, through its mission of locating and supporting its Fellows around the globe, has helped transform the field of social entrepreneurship. The organization has achieved widespread results by leveraging small cash investments into large and self-sustaining efforts to improve communities. Worth Magazine has named Ashoka one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” and the organization has been singled out for its efforts by numerous leading publications.

Bornstein noted what he termed the “four principles of success for social entrepreneurs.” These include: the ability to listen deeply and trust one’s intuition; the willingness to serve as “hubs” linking others to create powerful, trusting relationships that leverage both intellectual and emotional resources committed to positive social change; the skill to create a business plan that is “a blueprint, not a poem” so that the model may be transferred to others independent of geographic location or political change; and the drive to bring an “action orientation” to the organization.

Appearing with Bornstein was J.B. Schramm, introduced by Bornstein as a success story and “chapter 13 in my book.”

Schramm explained the strategy of his College Summit organization and its efforts to correct the trend among low-income students who he said enroll in college at less than half the rate of high-income students. By acting as an information broker, providing support and increased access to knowledge that students need to improve their chances of getting into a university, College Summit works with talented low-income students, their teachers, colleges and community leaders to facilitate the college application process. One key to the College Summit experience is an intensive four-day workshop that offers students practical tools and a chance to hone important application elements such as essay writing.

“Clearly there is a flaw in the system of moving these students from grade 12 to grade 13,” said Schramm, who himself attended an urban school in Denver with modest resources. “This is a high-stakes issue,” he added. “We know that the young man who first goes to college in his family will end poverty in his family forever, and his children are more than twice as likely as he is to go on to college.”

Said Jessica Watson ’04, president of the Kellogg Social Impact Club: “As the full enrollment in Prof. Marianne Woodward’s spring-quarter Social Entrepreneurship class suggests, social entrepreneurship is an increasingly popular topic at Kellogg, and among the Social Impact Club's membership in particular. It was exciting to hear cutting-edge practitioner J.B. Schramm speak about his work, as well as David Bornstein provide a context to this growing global trend.”

The event also provided students with an opportunity to network with audience members from the Chicago nonprofit community.