Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Do" v. Think

At Stanford University's TEDx Silicon Valley conference this past Saturday, Nancy Lublin, CEO of the youth empowerment nonprofit, Do Something, said we have gone too far as a society lauding social entrepreneurs and other leaders — and not far enough celebrating the people who follow them.

"All movements are led by the people in the middle," Lublin told the Dec. 12 gathering. Lublin, who founded Dress for Success in 1997, has since helped to evolve Do Something, a New York City-based youth empowerment nonprofit, from a debt-ridden, stodgy group into a high-profile magnet for teens. Lublin says 90 percent of teens say they want to make a difference but only 23 percent actively volunteer. Do Something, she says, works to transform talk into action; the nonprofit draws more than 1 million hits each month to its Web site while spending millions in grant money to support young people with good ideas ready to launch or to scale.

Lublin says she believes that the social enterprise sector "spends most of its time and money on helping the 1 percent" of change-makers. Meanwhile, she says, most of the work that is impacting those in need is actually being done by the less-heralded or less-privileged 90 percent.

"We are now obsessed with creating the new at the expense of creating impact," she said. "We have been told that social enterprise will change the world but no -- impact will change the world. Changing something is what really matters, not simply that we have created something new. We don't need another new cancer organization; we need the 300 new cancer organizations [that already exist] to learn how to work together."

Lublin added: "Scale is not necessarily religion. It ought to be impact." She urged conferees to "give permission to people to join something" rather than to encourage them to create something new. "Nothing happens in social enterprise without smart, talented, innovative followers."

What do you think? Is this fair? Does the social enterprise movement pay too much attention to innovative visionaries and not enough to the people or teams implementing the sector's big ideas in the field? Why do you think so?

(Photo: Suzie Katz on Flickr)

(This post first appeared on and is reprinted here with permission)

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Blogger Bijan said...

Excellent article. From my own experience in the field I can vouch for many commentators and practitioners seeing social entrepreneurship as the "magic bullet". It's the better aid by turning the BOP either into customers or (less often) into entrepreneurs and let them happily buy their way out of poverty.

Best of all, the new social entrepreneurship paradigm lets us preserve the (capitalist) system. We can all continue shopping, we just have to make slightly more conscious purchasing decisions - the markets will do the rest.

I'm firmly convinced it won't work that way. Business is not gonna save us, be it conventional or social. The social realm is something fundamentally different from the economic.

December 23, 2009 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

Yes, absolutely! But given this (some wonder), shouldn't the social sector also need different approaches to measuring ROI? What do you think?

December 23, 2009 at 7:29 AM  

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