Rob Katz

Book Review: The Power of Unreasonable People – How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change

The Power of Unreasonable PeopleUpon finishing The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, three words came to mind: it’s about time.? Lately, I’ve felt that the social entrepreneurship movement has grown too large, encompassing too many sub-topics that don’t necessarily relate to each other.? With their new book, however, authors John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan manage to unite the wide-ranging discipline of social entrepreneurship, using sharp analysis, compelling anecdotes and an eye towards future study.? Simply put, this book is a must-read for the ’social entrepreneurship’ crowd–one that transcends the aforementioned sub-topics.

As I read The Power of Unreasonable People, I decided to mark pages on which something unique appeared.? Rather than summarize the book–go to Amazon for that–my review will concentrate on these unique elements, listed in no particular order.Page 2: A growing number of companies, like Accenture, say that offering the opportunity to work alongside accomplished entrepreneurs factors into staff retention.? This indicates a new trend among Generation Y employees (those born after 1982)–they want meaningful careers as well as well-paying jobs.? Can?t have your cake and eat it too?? Maybe you can–and companies need to get on board if they are to continue to attract top talent.

Page 11: The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has joined forces with the Lemelson Foundation to establish the Leapfrog Fund, designed to spur the transfer of successful innovations between entrepreneurs in different parts of the world.? I hadn?t heard about this, but it is long overdue.? The tools, models and ideas that work should be replicated–but that requires serious technical assistance and favorable financing.? Kudos to Lemelson in particular for stepping up on this.

Page 19: Major companies?are finding that new business models can significantly extend the reach of products and services into communities that should be unable to pay for them and, in the process, create totally new markets.? If this isn?t directly out of the BoP orthodoxy, I don’t know what is.? Refreshing to see it here (even though the authors use Cemex as their case-in-point?time to find a new example!)

Page 49: For these organizations to achieve wider replication, market conditions must change, funding sources must evolve, and the financial markets?must adapt to the needs of these new actors.? See page 11 for details on the Leapfrog Fund–but yes, this is a salient point.? Some social enterprises aren’t replicable, and that’s OK.? But if we are really going to tackle the dual problems of environmental degradation and persistent poverty, then replication must be on the agenda.

Page 56: Most social entrepreneurs are acutely aware of the problem of the ’missing middle’–the gap between traditional funding?and financial investments necessary for rapid expansion.? A host of organizations are mobilizing to address the issue of the missing middle, including NextBillion allies Acumen Fund, New Ventures and Technoserve.?’s recent announcement of its philanthropic commitment to addressing the missing middle will no doubt keep its profile high in the coming months.?

Page 72: ?people in slum areas are willing to pay for the waste collection service.? Again, straight out of the BoP orthodoxy, and music to my ears; a public good (waste collection) that the government fails to provide opens up the opportunity for a social business.? Examples such as this one–taken from an anecdote about Dhaka’s Waste Concern–should show us that clean water provision and clean energy access are not necessarily the sole purview of government, and that the private sector has an important role to play in a variety of infrastructure-related sectors.

Page 74: No specific quote.? I am just struck by how often I know the people profiled in this book–and not just the famous ones.? On page 74, for example, there’s a quote from Damian Miller, the CEO of Orb Energy, a solar energy franchise operation in India.? I remember having dinner with Damian in San Francisco during the Eradicating Poverty Through Profits conference back in 2004.? More names–including my former colleague Beth Jenkins, now at the Kennedy School–are peppered throughout the text.

Page 118: By addressing all three issues–access, price, and quality–together, these social and environmental entrepreneurs are seeding and growing significant new markets where none existed before.? Finally, we have an author who chooses to define the ’base of the pyramid’ proposition not on size (dollars) or scope (number of people), but on the BoP penalty instead.? This is emblematic of the entire book–instead of haphazardly bouncing from one element of social entrepreneurship to another, the authors carefully define, sort and discuss a range of important trends.? They were careful with BoP–which indicates their care in tackling a range of other subjects.

Do yourself a favor, and read the whole book.? Some of the anecdotes will be familiar–that’s to be expected–and there’s not enough discussion of failure.? But what Elkington and Hartigan have done here is more than a successor to David Bornstein’s How to Change the World.? Rather, The Power of Unreasonable People is a call to action with blueprints included.? If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, be sure not to skip the conclusion–it’s worth the wait.

Finally, a bit of shameless self-congratulation: the preface contains excerpted data and analysis from The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base of the Pyramid.? When mainstream authors use these data and ideas, it shows there’s demand for the kind of quantitative BoP analysis we published last year.? Good for us.