Thursday, March 26, 2009


It's often been said that social entrepreneurs, more than others, tend to see the world as something they can shape against all odds: a poll of 200 of the 785 delegates attending the three-day Skoll World Forum at Oxford University seems to prove that perception. According to the poll results, academics and advisers are the "gloomiest" of the social enterprise lot attending the forum, with nearly two-thirds of those responding saying that they are either "moderately pessimistic" [59%] or "highly pessimistic" [6.5%] about the "economic situation."

In contrast, less than half of social entrepreneurs responding to the survey said they felt pessimistic; a full 84% of social entrepreneurs predicted their programs would increase in size or at least stay the same over the next year.

Sally Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, which organized the forum, said only 16% of organizations would be cutting back this year, a contrast to the 40% of nonprofits in the United States that said they would be scaling back or cutting programs this year in a recent U.S.-only poll. And what about the entrepreneurs? Today's poll data also show that almost 87 % of funders attending the Skoll conference [and responding to the poll] say their grants have remained the same or have increased in the past six months; over the coming year, 63 % say they think funding will remain the same or increase.

For more on the optimism of the social entrepreneur and what drives it, see our interview in December [Squalls] with Paul Light, the author of the recent book, The Search for Social Entrepreneurship, about the traits that distinguish these social innovators. Light told CauseGlobal:

I have come to agree that there is something different about the social entrepreneur...What they are is extremely optimistic about their chances of success. They all have very high confidence that they will succeed and they often ignore evidence to the contrary because they believe so strongly that they'll succeed...Additionally, they're not more likely to take risks than others but they do tend through their optimism to stick with it, and when they are told they are going to fail, they actually invest even more energy. They rebel against messages that suggest they're somehow on the wrong track."

For more on social entrepreneurs and how they're faring during the downturn, see this article, Global Heroes, in the May 12 issue of The Economist.

(Illustration: Debbie Hanford for

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