BENGALURU: We need a vision for a new form of capitalism designed to serve human needs rather than mindlessly accumulate wealth. We need a world where we bring solar energy to millions, have female-owned businesses, lift up the poor by providing mobility, shelter and other services and create a global network to help young entrepreneurs launch their startups. This is where I believe social entrepreneurs will play a very important role to drive inclusive growth around the world. I am a huge fan of social entrepreneurs and I have been fortunate to have learnt from the best — Magsaysay Awardees Anshu Gupta (founder of Goonj) and Harish Hande (founder of SELCO).
According to a World Economic Forum report, India has the highest number of social entrepreneurs in the world. So, what are the books that any aspiring social entrepreneur should read? The two books that opened my eyes to radical ideas were Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas and Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman. Anand’s book challenges every entrepreneur to honestly reflect on their efforts: Is that work going to affect positive systemic change, or does it purely appear good while preserving a status quo of inequality and injustice. Rutger’s book, on the other hand, is directed at changes in public policy and government intervention and focuses on the role that social entrepreneurs might play in his ambitious call to live in a world that we might consider a “utopia.”
However, one of the earliest and most important books, considered an introduction to social entrepreneurship, is a book that Nelson Mandela calls “wonderfully hopeful and enlightening” — How to Change the World by David Bornstein. The book was originally published in 2003 and while some of the examples may be a little dated, the concept and ideas are not.
A book that is mandatory reading for social entrepreneurs is Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh. It is essential to understand systems thinking so that we avoid unintended consequences even when our intentions are pure. Inspired by some of the social entrepreneurs in the disability space, my foundation has been supporting many young entrepreneurs and some of them find mention in my book The Invisible Majority.
Two biographies of social entrepreneurs that I would recommend are Banker to the poor by Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad Yunus and Creating Room to Read by John Wood. The first is the by now well-known story of the Grameen Bank credit programme founded in Bangladesh in 1983 by Yunus to provide small loans to the poor. The second is a spellbinding story of one man’s mission to put books within every child’s reach. Microsoft employee John Wood left the corporate job at the age of 35 to start the non-profit Room to Read. The book shares moving stories of the people whom Room to Read works to support — impoverished children whose schools and villages were swept away by war or natural disaster and girls whose education would otherwise have been ignored.
Finally, no story of social entrepreneurship is complete without mentioning Aravind Eye, the world’s largest provider of eye care. The book Infinite Vision by Pavithra K Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy is a must-read for anyone interested in leadership, service, and the building of institutions that release the best energies of the human spirit. The book uncovers the radical principles behind Aravind’s baffling success. I have often sent my team of engineers to spend a day at Aravind Eye in Madurai — it is the best leadership lesson you will ever receive!