TED Fellows and Social Entrepreneurship?s Middle Ages
Friday, July 15, 2011
Our collective imagination of the European Middle Ages conjures an age of darkness, disease, war, feudalism and feuding. The true story is much more complicated. Indeed, the Medieval era was a necessary period of challenge and experimentation – a period in which political systems evolved and in which understanding of the natural world struggled move from mysticism to science. It was an era that, although challenging, prepared the Western World for Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment.
The world of social entrepreneurship is, in many ways, in its own Middle Ages.
Throughout the first decade of the 2000s, driven by buzz from books like David Bornstein’s “How to Change the World” and fueled by internet fortunes from people like Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, social entrepreneurship – the field at the intersection of social change and business – leapt into the public eye in a major way.
Magazines and blogs started telling the stories of Teach for America and KaBoom. Fellowships like Echoing Green and Draper Richards began gaining prominence for their work funding the next generation of social enterprise startups. Corporations started to significantly reengage with social responsibility and green initiatives. Conferences like the Skoll Forum and Social Capital Markets created a crossroads for actors from across the spectrum to meet.
Since then, many amazing things have been accomplished and the field has evolved greatly. Yet at the same time, excitement about new business models can only last so long. The public has a short attention span, and the stories of promise must ultimately give way to stories of success for the field to live up to its true, transformational potential. The reality is, of course, that the real work of social entrepreneurship is not (just) lighting the fires of excitement and passion of bloggers, students, and investors, but demonstrating with real work and real success that a different, more sustainable approach to business and the business of social good is possible.