How to change the world !

How to change the world is very simply put, a compendium of social entrepreneurship stories across the world. Like the subtext on the cover of the book says, it is a bible in the field (NY Times reviewed it thus). It is a must-read if you are interested in social entrepreneurship. I would rate the book a 8 out of 10. I’ll explain where I thought the book fell short. Here is a summary of the chapters of the book.

The book is structured with real life stories of people interspersed with a few thoughts from the author about social entrepreneurs, their ideas and how they manage to scale their ideas. The author chronicles the stories of

  1. Ashoka Foundation and its founder Bill Drayton. Ashoka foundation is sort of VC for social entrepreneurs. Note that I said, sort of, Ashoka is more than that. It helps entrepreneurs network, helps them get access to resources amongst other things.
  2. Fabio Rosa – the guy who helped the cause of rural electrification in Brazil. This story is very inspiring – an engineer who wanted to make a difference in his own little way and how he had to struggle with the existing establishments to get this point heard
  3. The lady with the lamp – Florence Nightingale. I was surprised to see the story of Florence Nightingale in this book. But there were so many historical facts about here that I did not know. Florence worked tirelessly to ensure that proper facilities were available for soldiers during war-time (makes you wonder why one needed to work so hard to ensure that soldiers fighting for a cause get proper care !)
  4. Jeroo Billimoria, the lady behind the childline number in India – 1098. Childline network is now a reality in most of the Indian cities, but the effort to get this number wasn’t easy !
  5. Erzsébet Szekeres the lady who worked hard in Hungary so that disabled people could have decent living conditions. Again, she had to take an anti-establishment stance to do her work. In her case it was even more important, as her son was also differently abled, which made the cause even more personal for her.
  6. Dr. Vera Cordeiro who started the RENESCAR, to reduce the re-admittance rate into hospitals of poor kids in Brazil. Her work was to ensure that the families were supported once the kids leave hospital, so that the chance of the kids contracting the same diseases is reduced.
  7. J.B. Schramm who worked with high school students in USA to help them get into college. Given the high dropout ratio of kids after high school, Schramm worked with kids in school, helping them prepare the essays, arrange for financial aid, so that they can get into college.
  8. Veronica Khosa, a nurse in South Africa who wanted to ensure that the very poor, terminally ill had decent medicare. Given that she is a grandmother and still works so hard, kind of makes age a moot point for making a small difference.
  9. Javed Abidi who worked for disability rights in India. Thanks to his work and the work of NCPEDP, the disabled people in India have a reservation in jobs, till the civil services level ! The chapter also shows the apathy of Indian administration with respect to disabled access to public places. When Stephen Hawking came to India, they put up disabled access to the Qutab minar, but once he left, the ramps were removed. There was a case that needed to be filed in the courts to ensure that the ramps stayed ! How insensitive can the administration get ? And it is not the administration alone, it is the political system too. There is the anecdote of the opposition walking out during the winter session of the parliament in 1995. As a kid I remember vaguely about the disability bill, but reading about it now made me realise how much of work had to go into getting a legislation into place !
  10. James P Grant, the director of UNICEF who wanted to ensure that the kids in developing nations have access to proper medical care, specifically ensuring that they did not succumb to diarrhoea. He apparently used to carry ORS packets in his pocket to goad premiers of countries to initiate legislations in their countries ! Again, is the civil administration so self-centric ? I am not attempting a pot-shot at the administrations, but stories like this make me wonder about it.

Apart from these major stories, there are stories of other entrepreneurs in other chapters. The other chapters in the book detail

  1. The challenges faced by Bill Drayton and Ashoka foundation
  2. The role of the social entrepreneur
  3. The drive that the social entrepreneur has, to the level that they seem to be possessed by the idea
  4. How the entrepreneurs always strive for social excellence and how they handle new challenges
  5. The practices of the innovative organizations and what are the qualities of social entrepreneurs

The chapters on the innovative organizations and social entrepreneurs are particularly interesting to read. The four practices of innovative organizations that Bornstein details are

  1. Institutionalize listening
  2. Pay attention to the exceptional
  3. Design real solutions for real people (something like this a simple stove)
  4. Focus on human qualities

Then he goes on to enlist the qualities of social entrepreneurs.

  1. Willingness to self-correct (your aim is important but that doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes !)
  2. Willingness to share credit (it might be your idea or effort, but there were others who were participating in it. No (wo)man is an island !)
  3. Willingness to break free of established structures (being a rebel is possibly not a bad idea 🙂 )
  4. Willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries (I don’t know much about this, won’t work as much)
  5. Willingness to work quietly (well, I guess that says it all )
  6. Strong ethical impetus (at the end of the day it is not necessarily a for-profit model you are working for isn’t it )

So, where does the book fall short ? I think the book had a strong inclination for Ashoka fellows. It is not to undermine the work of Ashoka, but it would have been nice if there was mention of other people who were brave enough to break off the established structures and do something socially relevant. I am sure there are institutions like The Banyan all around the world. If by means of a book like this, these institutions reached a larger audience it would have done those organisations some good. May be the author had a social responsibility to tell the stories of these kind of institutions too. May be !

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful book to read. Definitely inspiring and more importantly it chronicles the hard work of people who we generally don’t know ! The quiet folks behind the change that is happening slowly; people who do it not for the glory but because they genuinely believe that they need to make a difference. It is that conviction and the courage of people like those that need to be appreciated and if possible emulated. Read the book, if not anything you might be inspired to do something, however small it is !

Funds allocated to be proportional to voter’s turnout in an election ?

The general elections in India are in progress and apparently the voter turnout has been generally high. This is possibly the first time in a very long while that I am not following the general elections closely. One part of the BBC article caught my eye, wherein the voter turnout was attributed to the general lack of interest in the choice of candidates. To quote BBC

Our correspondent says the poor turnout was being blamed on very hot weather as well as anger at both the choice of candidates and the poor record of elected representatives.

This I guess has been a perennial problem in Indian elections. So, I was thinking, what if the funds being allocated to a particular constituency are linked to the voter turnout percentages in that constituency ? If not the complete amount, atleast a part of it ! If a process like that is implemented, then the voters have a reason to turn up to vote. The general apathy might reduce to an extent. So, the next time when the members of a constituency have a problem for which they have no choice but to approach their local MLA (or even MP) then the representative can have the numbers for the loss of revenues (grants). There will always be cases wherein people who didn’t vote will negatively effect those who did in this particular scenario. But, that is the case in most of the situations in life isn’t it (think, boisterous lot in class pisses off professor, the whole class gets punished)  ? The other problems with this approach, that I can think of are:

  1. The election commission is an office like any other office. It can’t control the government’s expenditure.
  2. Officials won’t be willing to take the blame for the lack of funds for a particular constituency.
  3. The politicians can use this as the cause to not do anything.
  4. Like I already mentioned, some sections of the society might be negatively affected.

All the above said, I still wonder why something like this can’t be tried as an experiment. Any serious reasons not to ? Not even at the local panchayat election level ?