Thoroughly Modern Do-Gooders
Friday, March 21, 2008
Fashions in goodness change, just like fashions in anything else, and these days some of the very noblest people have assumed the manners of the business world – even though they don’t aim for profit. They call themselves social entrepreneurs, and you can find them in the neediest places on earth.
The people who fit into this category tend to have plenty of r?sum? bling. Bill Drayton, the godfather of this movement, went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford and McKinsey before founding Ashoka, a global change network. Those who follow him typically went to some fancy school and then did a stint with Teach for America or AmeriCorps before graduate school. Then, they worked for a software firm before deciding to use what they’d learned in business to help the less fortunate.
Now they work 80 hours a week, fighting bureaucracies and funding restrictions in order to build, say, mentoring programs for single moms.
Earlier generations of benefactors thought that social service should be like sainthood or socialism. But this one thinks it should be like venture capital.
These thoroughly modern do-gooders dress like venture capitalists. They talk like them. They even think like them. That means that aside from the occasional passion for heirloom vegetables, they are not particularly crunchy. They don’t wear ponytails, tattoos or Birkenstocks. They don’t devote any energy to countercultural personal style, unless you consider excessive niceness a subversive fashion statement.
Next to them, Barack Obama looks like Abbie Hoffman.
It also means that they are not that interested in working for big, sluggish bureaucracies. They are not hostile to the alphabet-soup agencies that grew out of the New Deal and the Great Society; they just aren’t inspired by them.