Rippling: Ashoka’s Beverly Schwartz

Beverly Schwartz, the author of Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation throughout the World,serves as Vice President of Social Marketing at Ashoka.   We caught up with her just before the launch of her new book. #

Dowser: In a nutshell, what is the new book about?
Schwartz: How you create a movement and bring people along to make change.  Creating a movement that is SUSTAINABLE by involving people who keep change going.  The difference between this book and others in the market is that the vast majority of those books focus on the social entrepreneurs.  In this one, I’ve tried to weave in the voices of whose lives have been changed by the social entrepreneur.  It’s about the magnetic skills of the social entrepreneurs and the people, corporations, donors, and the businesses that they pull in to create change and create a community to do so.

This week, we had the Oxford Skoll Forum, which has grown vastly since it started to include wealthy philanthropists, the private sector, public policy officials, and more.  So, are we seeing a significant growth in the field of social entrepreneurship?
Well, Bill Gates  calls himself a social entrepreneur.  So, if you think about just that one case, we’ve made great strides (because of his immense work in the field). As more and more entrepreneurs and tech entrepreneurs get to a certain point in their careers, they are calling themselves social entrepreneurs.  Also, if you are living in a country like Nigeria, in a city like Lagos, and you’ve got the option now to use a portable toilet for the first time in your life, you’d think that we’re making great strides.  It’s all perspective.

In the US, we get jaded, even in thinking about the power of a solar light, for example.  What effect does it have?  But, think about the vast distribution of these low-cost technologies.  It’s making great strides!

The more I delve into the people in the book, the more I wrote the story, I actually became more and more enthused, more so than before.

Sustainability – how do we ensure it in this movement of social entrepreneurship?
The more and more people you engage in the change, starting with the community, the more chance you have to achieve sustainability.  Go from local grassroots upwards.  Now, we see community banks cropping up because social entrepreneurs come to an area and start a flow of goods, services, and money.  So, the banks follow.  And a community flourishes around it.  And there’s   a lot of copying, scaling, that happens.

There’s been a lot of debate on whether or not ‘social entrepreneurship’ is a useful or accurate term.  What do you make of the debate?
I think it’s a useful term.  Social entrepreneurship is one side of the coin, it’s one kind of entrepreneurship.  And people understand the term entrepreneurship in terms of business and profit.  But they don’t understand it in the context of social ‘profit.’  The skillset is very similar; the mission is different.  I think it’s a very valuable term.  People also use social innovation along with social entrepreneurs.  And that’s ok because it is an innovation.

That’s at the core of Ashoka, which advocates that everyone can be a changemaker.  It’s about bottom-up change.  So, do you think that grassroots outweighs top-down reform?
I think it’s a mix of both.  Sometimes ,the top-down doesn’t happen, which then forces the grassroots movement, compelling it further.  So the bottom gets swollen up to influence it.  At various times, various levels, it’s not unidirectional.

What do you see as the role of Ashoka going forward?
Collaboration of all types.  There’s so much to be done when people start collaborating.  We see collaboration in sectors (girls, technology, health, water/sanitation, empathy) but also cross-cutting.   One of the things we’re also thinking about is – how do you build things with different kinds of entrepreneurs?  How do you take entrepreneurs from different sectors and build something?  It would help if people organized around collaboration.  And at what point do people start collaborating instead of competing?  There is that fine line.

It’s easy for Ashoka to do that.  It’s easy for Skoll to do that – because both of them have fellows.  So, it would make sense if both of them got together and do two-years worth of collaboration.   We’re looking at an experiment then around different sectors.  That’s the way you can rebuild towns/ villages.  It grows out to cities.

Social entrepreneurship is becoming more mainstream.  But are there still gaps in this ecosystem that need to be addressed?
In the eight years that I’ve been at Ashoka, I’ve seen a huge uptick in the attention that we’re getting from media -and it’s global.  In the last four years, it’s been more so.   It has a lot to do with people that are very well known. So, look at Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar, Jeff Skoll/ Participant Media – more and more of these people are getting known for their work in the social realm.  So, it becomes more lucrative for those working in the field and their work is getting more attention because of these names.

We’re also going beyond the CSR model.   This is way beyond CSR.  Corporations are doing strategic philanthropy; I see a very tenuous connection between that and the selling/marketing of their services.    The further beyond we get it, the more attractive it becomes for people coming out schools who are jaded.  It makes it feasible for them to work at an Intel, Vodafone and do something of social impact through their social innovation offices.   The more corporations that expose their employers to that and they share it with their family, friends – it spreads and becomes a way of life.  That’s the way it grows.

There’s a lot of talk about Impact Investing.  Is there really a growing pool of money out there for these risky ideas and these innovators?  Or is it more talk and less actions?
Has it ever changed?!  We’re always talking about money, or lack there of it.  But, yes, relatively speaking, we’re growing again as an economy and we ebb and flow with the economy.  I do believe there are more people, corporations investing.  There is also, however, more competition for it.  We hate to use the word competition – but oh, yes.   Yes, there are more donors giving; but there are more people asking for that money.

When there’s a need, people see it and you just have to keep on innovating so that you’re constantly evolving so that you’re constantly attractive to those who have money.


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