IT Conversations – New Solutions

NewsolutionsListen here.  This was a truly inspirational interview,  David Bornstein talks about a project to bring electricity to poor people in Brazil: single wires going to houses, grounded in the soil, low voltages. The project is also bringing solar panels to rural areas, renting them for what people generally pay for candles, kerosene, etc. He also talks about “child line” in India, now in 55 cities. It’s a number you can call if you see a child in distress. It started with one woman who spent 3 years trying to get the equivalent of an 800 number for it. It’s deeply affected India’s child protection policies.

There is one very touching story about a business man who rings the Child Line to report a naked two year old at the airport suffering from burns and left alone.  The Child Line organisation has enlisted the street children as its “runners” and by the time they arrive the child has been effectively kidnapped by a beggar aiming to use her to improve his trade!  The boys eventually prevail and the child is taken into care and eventually adopted.

I am amazed at the idea of using the street children to be the team in the field directed by the child line to help those very same street children.  The interview does not explain further but I guess they are probably ideal, being very street smart, know their way around and through involvement their self image and sense of community will improve.  I was also impressed by the fact that they use statistics gathered from their call management software to identify illness hot spots, areas where – for example – child abuse is a particular problem (tourists it turns out).

I was also taken by the concept of encouraging pension funds and the like to invest some of their money in Social Entrepreneurs, the ROI in real terms for the world would probably be immense!


Want to know more:

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

by David Bornstein

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Average Customer Rating: 4.9 Customer Comment:

A welcome explanation of revolutionary ideas. David Bornstein’s new book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas offers a superb introduction to the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship, which has gained prominence in the past two decades but is still awkwardly explained. Rather than group radically different projects under the umbrella term “social entrepreneurship,” Bornstein goes to the root and describes what makes a social entrepreneur. While well-known figures such as Florence Nightingale and Unicef head James P. Grant are described, most of the individuals profiled in the book are active, independent entrepreneurs found through the network resources of Bill Drayton’s organization Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Ashoka has broke new ground as a venture capital firm for social betterment, investing in carefully selected individuals and projects that promise long-term, sustainable returns – that is, positive social change – and more than any other organization promoting the ideas of social entrepreneurship around the globe.

It is telling that, on the surface, the entrepreneurs described have little in common. Vera Cordeiro, for example, grew up comfortably in the pampered upper strata of Brazilian society, while AIDS worker Veronica Khosa was orphaned at an early age in an impoverished village in South Africa. Fábio Rosa is a born tinkerer and engineer who built dams and irrigation systems in his backyard as a child, while Erzébet Szekeres was a mid-level tradesswoman who never considered the changing Hungary’s treatment of the disabled until the birth of her disabled son. The variety of conditions and approaches Bornstein describes may appear bewildering at first, but in fact this breadth is perhaps most effectively drives the book’s point home: Bornstein highlights the lateral thinking and tenacity of the entrepreneurs, who recognized and devoted themselves to solving problems others did not even acknowledge. Most of the entrepreneurs arrived at their methodologies through trial and error, never realizing at the time that others were engaged in analogous work in vastly disparate fields.

Many entrepreneurs conceive of projects in modular or franchise terms, eschewing top-down fixes by fiat. Creating a hotline and crisis center for street children in India and promoting rural electricity and irrigation in Brazil have little in common, but both Jeroo Billimoria and Fábio Rosa saw that sustainable, long-term solutions would have to incorporate local interests and involvement. In this way projects can maintain core principles while adapting to local circumstances and needs, and entrepreneurs who struggle for years with a particular local problem hammer out a replicable and portable model that spreads quickly. The results surprise Bornstein himself on occasion:

“When I read about [Tomasz] Sadowski’s work, my first thought was that Ashoka had made a mistake. If ever there was an idea that was destined to remain local, this was it. How many stable, self-managed, partially self-supporting homes made up of former prison inmates, alcoholics, and homeless people can you have? “The answer, as of early 2003, was twenty and counting.”

Bornstein’s writing is brisk and energetic, using a wry wit to strike a fine balance between the gravity of the work and the infectious energy of the entrepreneurs. This style of writing befits the entrepreneurs themselves, who do not dress up their language in niceties when bluntness is more effective. The reader is struck with both admiration and amusement, for example, reading how Indian disability activist Javed Abidi took advantage of physicist Stephen Hawking’s visit to India to excoriate the government’s reluctance to promote widespread disability access.

“I would be absolutely grateful to Dr. Hawking,” Abidi told reporters, “if he would want to go to different parts of Delhi, like Janpath, Connaught Place, the public loo, and to any of the government offices or shopping centers and hotels and embarrass the authorities.”

In this way the book avoids the pitfalls of excess piety and preachiness and instead reads like a collection of exciting and incredible life stories. Bornstein wisely lets the entrepreneurs’ works and words speak for themselves whenever possible, and thus the book feels genuinely moving and inspirational rather than overwrought.

I would recommend this book to anyone involved in policy-making or curious about the global potential of individual action. The ideas discussed in the book appear to be gaining momentum on a global scale, not merely that social entrepreneurship is an idea whose time has come, but because selfless and driven social entrepreneurs are bringing the idea to our time.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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