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THE PROVERBS OF
SOCIAL
ENTREPRENEURSHIP
PAUL C. LIGHT
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
ROBERT F. WAGNER SCHOOL OF PUBLIC SERVICE
PROVERBS
 COMPELLING GUIDANCE BASED ON
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM, LONG-STANDING
PRACTICE, INTUITIVE CONCLUSIONS
 NOT NECESSARILY TRUE—MAY HAVE BEEN THE
WAY OF DOING THINGS, IDEAS DISCERNED FROM
BIASED OBSERVATION, IDEOLOGICAL IMAGES OF
THE “GOOD” IDEA.
 OFTEN DELIVERED IN STORIES OF SUCCESS
AGAINST THE ODDS
THE PROVERBS ARE IN
THE DEFINTION
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS A (1)
COURAGEOUS (2) ENDEAVOR TO (3) CREATE, (4)
SCALE, AND (5) EXECUTE A (6) NEW (7)
COMBINATION OF (8) IDEAS FOR (9) SOLVING AN
(10) INTRACTABLE (11) SOCIAL PROBLEM (12)
PERMANENTLY
1. A COURAGEOUS
 PROVERB: COURAGE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT
RESOURCE FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
 ALSO PERSEVERANCE, GRIT, FORTITUDE,
TENACITY
 PROVERB: BUSINESS AND SOCIAL
ENTREPRENEURSHIP ARE ALIKE IN MOST
IMPORTANT ASPECTS
 MAJOR DIFFERENCE IS MOTIVATION: FINANCIAL
VERSUS SOCIAL PROFIT
 SOCIAL EQUILIBRIUM BEHAVES LIKE ECONOMIC
EQUILLIBRIUM
2. ENDEAVOR
 PROVERB: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS THE
PRODUCT OF INDIVIDUALS
 THERE ARE VERY FEW SUCH INDIVIDUALS
 MOST SHARE SIMILAR TRAITS, HABITS, EXPERIENCES,
AND HEURISTICS
 THE MOTIVATION TO ENGAGE IS ENDURING AND
IDENTIFIABLE EARLY IN LIFE
 PROVERB: EXISTING ORGANIZATIONS ARE INCAPABLE
OF SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
 “Social entrepreneurs are remarkable. These strong and often
lonely human beings require and deserve our understanding,
long-term loyalty, and respect. Existing institutions are not able
to make such judgments or operate on this timescale.”
3. TO CREATE,
 PROVERB: CREATING A NEW COMBINATION OF IDEAS
INVOLVES A STAGE-GATE PROCESS OF SOME KIND—
COMPLETION OF TASKS
 PROVERB: CREATING A NEW COMBINATION OF IDEAS
OFTEN INVOLVES “ELEVATOR MOMENTS,” “LEMON
DROPS,” “ACCIDENTS,” “A GARAGE”
 PROVERB: PRIMARY TASK IS “identifying a stable but
inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion,
marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that
lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any
transformative benefit on its own.”
4. SCALE,
 PROVERB: SCALING IS NOT LIKE “opening a 13th
department store in a chain.”
 “MANAGEMENT” IS OFTEN BELITTLED—”So very few
of the Fortune 500 companies from several decades ago
still make the list or even exist, precisely because
managers took over.”
 PROVERB: SCALING IS GENERALLY
NONPARTISAN
 LITTLE DISCUSSION OF POLITICS, POLICY
ENTREPRENEURS, GOVERNMENT FUNDING
(SECRET)
5. AND EXECUTE
 PROVERB: EXECUTION INVOLVES BUSINESS-LIKE
BEHAVIOR
 GENERAL APPROACH ASSUMES THAT BUSINESS
AND SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP ARE ALIKE IN ALL
IMPORTANT ASPECTS
 CONCERN WITH REVENUE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT
 PROVERB: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS A
FULL-TIME TASK
 NO PARTIALLY ENTREPRENEURIAL ORGANIZATIONS
 EITHER ENTRERPENERUIAL OR NOT (NO
GRADATIONS)
6. A NEW
 PROVERB: NEW IS SUPRISING, YET ATTRACTIVE
TO ADOPTERS
 FAMILIARITY IS NOT SEEN AS AN ASSET
 PROVERB: NEW COMBINATIONS ARE LONG IN
DEVELOPMENT
 “I get very, very suspicious when I see someone who had
an idea two years ago. It just doesn't ring true. Because
with the typical entrepreneur you can see the roots of the
interest when they're very young. There's a real
coherence to people's lives.”
7. COMBINATION
 PROVERB: COMBINATION IS A PRODUCT OF
CREATIVE INQUIRY, MORE ART THAN SCIENCE
 RARELY INVOLVES EXPERIMENTATION—LITTLE
ADVANCE TESTING, PROTOTYPING, CONTROLGROUP ASSESSMENT, ALL DUE TO FUNDING
CONSTRAINTS
 PROVERB: COMBINATION IS AN INTERACTIVE
PROCESS, BUT IS BEST VIEWED AS A BLACK BOX
THAT IS UNIQUE TO EACH IDEA
8. OF IDEAS
 PROVERB: IDEAS GENERALLY FOCUS ON
PRODUCTS (PROGRAMS, INTERVENTIONS), NOT
PROCESS
 TECHNICAL, NOT ADMINISTRATIVE
 PROVERB: ADJUSTMENTS OF EXISTING
PRODUCTS, PROCESS, ETC. IS NOT CONSIDERED
SOCIAL ENTEPRENEURSHIP
 “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or
teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have
revolutionized the fishing industry.”
9. TO SOLVE
 PROVERB: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP DOES
NOT OCCUR UNTIL THE STATUS QUO IS FULLY
REPLACED
 ERRADICATION IS ULTIMATE GOAL, PARTIAL
PRGRESS IS NOT ENOUGH
 PROVERB: SCALING IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT
BARRIER TO THE “IMMITATION” NEEDED FOR
CREATION OF A “JUST” EQUILLIBRIUM
10. AN INTRACTABLE
 PROVERB: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN
INTRACTABLE SOCIAL PROBLEM (SHORT OF AN
ASTEROID STRIKE)
 PROVERB: INTRACTABLE PROBLEMS ARE MORE
LIKELY TO OCCUR IN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT,
ECONOMIC, EDUCATION, AND HUMAN RIGHTS
THAN HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
 HEAVIEST U.S. FUNDING APPEARS TO BE IN
EDUCATION
11. SOCIAL PROBLEM
 PROVERB: THE KEY SOCIAL PROBLEM THAT
MUST BE SOLVED IS “the exclusion, marginalization,
or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the
financial means or political clout to achieve any
transformative benefit on its own.”
 IMPLIED QUALIFIERS: “BY OTHERS, NOT SELF,” “BY
INTENT, NOT ACCIDENT”
12. PERMANENTLY
 PROVERB: THE SOLUTION MUST BE PERMANENT
 “The social entrepreneur should be understood as
someone who targets an unfortunate but stable
equilibrium that causes the neglect, marginalization, or
suffering of a segment of humanity; who brings to bear on
this situation his or her inspiration, direct action, creativity,
courage, and fortitude; and who aims for and ultimately
affects the establishment of a new stable equilibrium that
secures permanent benefit for the targeted group and
society at large.”
 PROVERB: THE EXISTING EQUILLIBRIUM IS
DEFEATED
ASSESSING PROVERBS
 HOW MANY ARE CORRECT?
 PRINCIPLES, NOT PROVERBS
 HOW MANY ARE CONTEXT DRIVEN?
 MIGHT BE THAT DIFFERENT INTRACTABLE
PROBLEMS REQUIRE DIFFERENT SOURCES OF
ENTREPRENEURSHIP, COMBINATIONS, IDEAS, ETC.
 MIGHT BE THAT DIFFERENT IDEAS REQUIRE
DIFFERENT TYPES OF EXECUTION, TIME-LINES,
TRAITS, ETC.
THE IMPORTANCE OF
SOCIAL EXPLORING
 WHAT WE DON’T KNOW CAN’T HELP US
 NEED FOR DEEP INVESTMENT IN SOCIAL
EXPLORING IF SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS TO
ADVANCE
 STILL A FAD DESPITE THIRTY YEARS
 SOCIAL EXPLORING MAY BE THE LEAST POPULAR
 SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER ALWAYS IS
 VERY EXPENSIVE
 THE POLITICS OF SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
AN OLD IDEA:
COMPARE & CONTRAST
 SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP WILL NOT BECOME
A FIELD UNTIL IT BECOMES DISCIPLINED ABOUT
UNDERSTANDING ITSELF
 CONTEMPORARY MEASURES ARE INSUFFICIENT
 HOWEVER, FUNDING FOR DEEPER RESEARCH IS
ALMOST NON-EXISTANT
 KNOW-IT-WHEN-WE-SEE-IT VIEW FROM THE TECH
AND HEDGE FUNDERS
 RATHER-NOT-KNOW-IT FROM OTHER FUNDERS AND
ACTORS
 NO-TIME-TO-MEASURE-IT FROM WITHIN ACADEME
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