Reclaiming Social Entrepreneurship | Daniela Papi Thornton | TEDxBend



[Applause] I'm gonna tell you the story of this bag and then I'm gonna tell you what's missing from the story because what's missing from the story of this bag is missing from our current social entrepreneurship movement and if we can reclaim those missing pieces well then we can reclaim the potential of this movement which is to shift our broken systems and achieve our collective social and environmental goals so here's how the story is often told this bag is made from reclaimed fire hose every year firefighters decommission tons of fire hose and it ends up in our landfills this company's co-founder Cressy figured out how to sell enough bags belts and wallets to reclaim the entire supply from London's fire brigade each year plus they donate 50 percent of their profits back to the firefighters charity pretty cool huh that's how we teach about social entrepreneurship we say there's a system in our society that's broken and it's creating a problem or creating waste and so the social entrepreneur comes in takes that waste makes a business makes lots of money saves lots of waste makes lots of donations but that doesn't fix the broken system what's missing from the story is that social entrepreneurships potential and crises goal is to fix that system so she does a lot more than simply run a social business we're gonna look at the difference between being a social business founder and a system change leader and then we're gonna look at our education system because as an educator myself who's had a chance to teach about these things all over the world I can tell you that right now our social entrepreneurship education system is largely designed to make social business founders so then we'll look at what we can do to start to make some system change leaders because when this movement started over 25 years ago social entrepreneurship was about system change we celebrated social entrepreneurs like Wendy Kopp wendy is the founder of Teach for America they take some of our highest performing students and put them in some of our lowest performing schools and in addition to reallocating talent they're helping to generate a generation of young people who know about and care about educational inequality so they can further change the system in their future careers Wendy never started a business but she is a social entrepreneur because she's taking entrepreneurial approaches to take limited resources create more value by shifting a broken system somehow along the way over the last 25 years as the term social entrepreneurship spread wide the definition and the practice has narrowed and along the way we lost system change we now teach it as if it was simply about starting a social business and growing it bigger we tell small circle business that it needs to become big circle business and in order to do that it needs to gain market share by out competing its competitors and being unique in the field it's about winning and that might be how the idealized version of a business grows it's not what impact growth looks like system change looks more like this it's messy and complicated and it takes more than businesses it takes nonprofits and governments and everything in between because no one organization can grow to the size of the problems we face and we're certainly not going to get there by selling a lot more stuff sometimes it means deliberately trying not to be unique in your field by giving information away or training others or getting the government to take over your work in crises case she does run a social business because she recognizes that if there's a problem of waste right now and she wants to reclaim it and show other people that it can be done and then she uses those funds and that credibility to do the rest of her system change work like work with the Scottish government to help them affect change with their aggressive climate change goals or work with corporations all over the world to help them design products that produce no waste and can continue to be reused or she works with us at Oxford and other universities to teach future leaders about environmental entrepreneurship she is trying to change system yet people who subscribe to the small circle big circle version of entrepreneurship would say she shouldn't do those things it's a waste of time and money unless it sells more bags somehow social entrepreneurship has been commandeered by the business sector and many people now define it as simply starting a business with a social goal but that's completely missing the point of all these people who can weave and through these different sectors because real system change social entrepreneurs they're agnostic about the tools they use to create change yeah they might start a social business if that's what's needed but if that doesn't work or if it it's not what it's needed they'll do something else they will work with governments to create a new policy write a book work with corporates work with nonprofits be activists heck they might even hug a tree from time to time but these are not your grandmother's tree huggers these are people who are solving our most entrenched problems people like Majin imagine was an investigative journalist who was so angered by the environmental problems he saw in China that he found a way to take the government's pollution data and share it with corporations abroad so that those corporations could see if the factories they were hiring were causing environmental ation of our environmental violations and if they were then they could put pressure on those factories to improve their environmental outcomes and it's working he didn't start a business either because he didn't think that's what's needed but he continues to change the system by writing about it by putting pressure on the government to release more data you see a system change leader looks at a system and sees what's missing and then they look internally and say what can I do to effect change but then they galvanize other people and those skills to fill other gaps so that the system can shift and the beauty of that is that you and I and all of us can do that from whatever area we come from it means that you don't just need to have the skills of being a social business founder to do this work it means we don't just need people to invent and sell new and better solar panels we need them to reinvent the systems that left people without sustainable electricity to begin with and all the roles in between but fortunately for us we have an entire generation of young people who want high-impact careers I've worked at the University of Oxford for the last five years and over 60% of our MBA students say they're getting an MBA because they want to have a high-impact career which means it's not the type a MBA of the past whose elbowing each other out of the way to get first in line in the hedge fund interview now they might still be a lot of type A's but some of the biggest competitions on our campus and campuses all over the world now are the social impact ones and while our students demands have shifted our universities have been slower to do so and that needs to change universities need to change their metrics of success because if our students are demanding high-impact careers then we better start measuring for that rather than competing for some archaic business school ranking system that still ranks schools by asking our alumni the size of their signing bonus and nothing about the size of their impact we also need to change this siloed thinking these courses are for accountants these are for marketing professionals oh and people who want to change the change the world will take these entrepreneurship courses and and a few social impact metric courses on top system change needs to be this generations core work it's far too important to leave up to a few social business founders every accounting course should include accounting for externalities every marketing course can introduce social marketing every entrepreneurship course can teach our students to measure more than money but if we want our students to break out of a broken system well then we need to teach them to it that there's a system to break and right now we're talking about it as if there's a problem in the world they just need to start a social business and grow it really big and they can solve the problem which completely ignores all the other efforts out there that they can learn from and build upon and they see that all the accolades have to do with social business founding so they're applying to universities saying I want to be a social entrepreneur I just need to figure out my issue and my business model what they don't realize is that real system change leaders don't wake up every morning saying man I am so excited to be a social business founder no they wake up and they are so angry about something in the world that they really care about and want to change or something they're so excited about creating for our society that that's what drives them they are married to solving a problem not married to their solution but right now we are marrying our students to their solutions almost every entrepreneurship course and accelerator program ends in some sort of pitch day where the students need to pitch their world-changing solution and further embeds their confirmation bias we're spending more time teaching them how to perfect their sales pitch then we are teaching them how to understand the problems they claim to be trying to solve and the judges of those contests often know more about business and business scale than they do about impact and social change and I can tell you from having joined and judged enough of these contests that if the judges focus on scale over reality an app probably wins perhaps an app for Nigerian farmers but it's pitched by students who have never farmed and never been to Nigeria that might sound funny and I don't hold the students to account for they have goodwill but they are doing exactly what we're asking them to do they're trying to solve problems they never lived for people they'd have never met in places they have never been and I don't know about you but I can't get fired up to my core about something I don't understand so they win a bit of money they slide a Nigeria they need some farmers they set up a focus group eventually they realized their business wasn't grounded in reality they come home they write a blog they get credit for their course and they go work for a consulting firm we need to marry students to solving problems we also need to think about what about those people in the focus group whose expectations were set up and what about the people who have lived the problem who we overlooked because we're using our limited funds to fire lead students around the world to try out their business ideas we have to ask ourselves some really tough questions those are some of the questions I asked when I did research and wrote a report last year called tackling here opener ship where I looked at how we can move from the here opener to the system change leader and because I was in a position to be designing social entrepreneurship courses I got to try out some of the ideas and here's what we found most social entrepreneurship courses right now give students one tool start a social business they don't teach students how to understand and apprentice with problems they haven't lived and they're asking them to solve before they ask them to understand and they're not teaching students about systems about how other efforts can be built upon learn from and contributed to if we can shift those things well then we can shift our broken social entrepreneurship education system and create more system change leaders at Oxford we did a few things first we started a Leadership Program where we cross pollinated our MBAs with the masters and PhD students and we didn't teach them about how to start a social business we gave them leadership skills so they could use those skills however they wanted to attack problems in the future there are so many accelerator programs right now that ask students to apply with their world-changing business idea and then they spend all this time to try and start this business even though we know businesses in general are more likely to fail than scale what if we had the same number of system change leader accelerator programs or student applied with an issue they cared about and what they knew and what they didn't know yet and they could spend the time to learn more about the issue figure out how they might contribute and figure out how to get others to create change that's the potential of our social entrepreneurship education we also need to rethink these business plan competitions at Oxford we made three changes first we opened it up to alumni in in essence what we were saying to our current students is you don't need to start a social business the day you graduate if you know about homelessness and it's an issue you care about don't start a homelessness social enterprise tomorrow go work for one or volunteer there on the side learn ask questions and eventually you will find a u-shaped hole in the world or you can use your unique skills to contribute to change and if at that time it happens to be that you're gonna start a venture Gavin come back to us then secondly we said if you have not lived the problem that you're trying to solve and can't prove that you have apprenticed with it you can't apply for start-up funding but you can apply for our new funding called apprenticing with a problem funding because what we realize is that at almost every university there's only one part of funding for those who want to improve the world so students are knowingly pitching half-baked ideas just so they can get the foot in the door with apprentice in with the problem funding they can go out do research get a job get an internship and start on their path third we created a new competition internally we call it an unbusinesslike um petition and we're running it at 24 universities students no longer need to pitch their solution to the world's problems it's based on the open source impact gaps canvas and students now pitch their understanding of the problem what's happening what are the numbers what's going on why is it still entrenched and then they explain their understanding of the current solutions what's already being tried what models are out there what's working what's not and then they look at the gaps and it might sound obvious that someone who wants to solve a problem might look at what's already being tried but that might be common sense it's not common practice and as educators we need to give our students tools like this and incentivize them to learn before they try to solve we also need to stop asking competition questions questions like for your competitors how are you better how are you unique and start asking collaboration questions like how is what you're proposing going to fit into the system that's already there how are you learning from others who have already tried to solve this and how are you contributing to their impact not just your own then we can start to fund some people who are married to solving a problem people like Laura Laura won some of our apprentice in with a problem funding last year she's from Hawaii and she really cares about the issue of preserving indigenous cultures while improving their economic opportunities and she realized that that that there was a number of organizations in New Zealand that had done just that so she used her funds to go to New Zealand for a few months and work with some Maori organizations and she's now taking that knowledge back to Hawaii to share it across the social sector there that is the potential that we have and social impact educators to find people who are married to solving a problem and Laura said she never would have applied for funding if it was about starting a social business because she doesn't want to start a business she wants to solve a problem and change a system which brings us back to this bag and to Cressy there were two things missing with her story in the beginning first Chrissie didn't just fall into this work she has cared about our Waste Systems since she was a young girl and she would go to the garbage dump with her father and see beautiful and useful things that we had all thrown away and she wanted to change that so she spent her education in her early career learning about that waste system and secondly she's not just a social business founder she's a system change leader she's doing everything in her power to change the system so that other young girls don't need to see that waste to begin with but she can't do it alone we need a heck of a lot more crises we are so close there is so much momentum interest in the social entrepreneurship movement and we're nearly there and how we educate and fund it but we're missing a few things and if we can bring those things back well then we can do a lot more than sell some sexy bags made out of waste we can fix our wasteful systems and help those young people who want high-impact careers to be the system change leaders that we need them to be thank you [Applause]

22 thoughts on “Reclaiming Social Entrepreneurship | Daniela Papi Thornton | TEDxBend

  • The big issue I see with this lady is taking the western capitalist societies she benefits from for granted. The reason the west has such comparatively minimal social issues is because of the market forces principles and the freedom of individuals to solve problems for monetary gain.

    For some reason she continually calls pure capitalism (the pure motivation of personal wealth and success) as a broken system and suggests the solution is to instead treat business are first a vehicle for social justice and second as a business. For example, the handbag example is a perfect example of how pure capitalism crates wealth in solving an issue. they recognized that there is a cheap, plentiful resource (old fire hoses) that can be sold to fill a demand of unique women's handbags. This purely monetary venture solved a problem of excess waste while creating excess wealth to direct to charity. But this lady does't think this is enough.

    It seems what she wants is business students to adopt the mindset of an NGO instead of a business, even though NGOs in the long term are far less impactful than the steady rise in the standard of living afforded by capitalism. The issue is not to give more control of the private sector to the government or to create or judge business along idealistic or moralizing lines.

    the path to solving social issues and raising the standard of living lies in more freedom of individuals in the private sector to provide for people and solve issues in return for monetary gain, not by relying on the good will and ability of any government or stagnant NGO.

  • When the first time I heard about social enterpreneurship I was wondering what is the different between social enterpreneurship and CSR (Customer Social Resposibility) program? Then I start to research and I get the answer that there is no difference. Then I keep start finding the answer by books and internet till right now. I still believe that the real answer is about building collective community and measure more than just money. Now I started a free public class find a wilingness academic lecturer to teach about philosophy, politics, and critical thinking. And I try join any collective education communites.

  • This is a brainstorming ideas Danielle 💙. I believe it will create more significant impact with great results.

  • Brilliant! Thank you Dani. Find people who are married not to their solutions, but to solving a problem and change a system. YES!

  • What an insightful video. I notice how a clear vision took action in a system to make an important change improve the social enterprise where is being applied, not only the enterprise but the world.

  • Inspiring speech!! Very much captures what's missing in the social entrepreneurship sphere!

    I loved this quote: "Almost every entrepreneurship course and accelerator program ends in some sort of pitch day. Where the students need to pitch their world-changing solution. […] We're spending more time teaching [students] how to perfect their sales pitch than we are trying to teach them to understand the problem they claim to be trying to solve. And the judges of those contest often know more about business scaling then they do about the impact and social change."

  • Great talk! Definitely frustrating living in Silicon Valley and seeing how so many people are focused on the wrong things.

  • Daniela has pin-pointed a BIG problem with business pitch contests and more importantly nailed that educators focused on "leadership skills" are missing the need for "system change-makers". Every educator and aspiring entrepreneur will benefit from this presentation!!

  • I admire the elegant overview, provided by Daniela Papi-Thornton. Great problems require a great hivemind to collectively solve them.

  • Excellent talk! 🙂

    So refreshing to hear how individuals can change systems with passion, dedication and innovation.

    I adore Daniela's enthusiasm and passion for her work in this talk.

    I would definitely be interested to learn more about social entrepreneurial courses at Oxford Said Business School and how they could assist my work.

  • What an insightful and inspiring talk about system changes and recognizing that it's an ecosystem and not straight line. She is bright, I love her passion and vision.

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