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Guide to Social Entrepreneurship and Peacebuilding

Dear Colleagues

Greetings. In recent years there has been a virtual explosion in the field of social entrepreneurship. According to Ashoka, one of the pioneering organizations in the field, Social entrepreneurs are, “..individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.” (see

While there is some confusion of the term social entrepreneur (as there is with the term peacebuilding), in general I define the term as individuals and organization who are using innovative tools and processes to facilitate wide-scale social change in diverse social sectors. One of the critical factors in defining who is and isn’t a social entrepreneur is the idea of scaling up change to affect larger systems and dynamics. Thus, if someone is developing an innovative idea in a community and having success in reducing conflict, or improving public health or education, scaling up might be taking the process or ideas/national or at least expanding to other sectors of the country.

Social entrepreneurs are also committed change makers and seek to effect change and generate the resources to do so through innovative means. Many peacebuilders working to reduce conflict, change systems and change power relations can fit the category of social entrepreneurs and vice-versa.

A number of people also equate the concept of social entrepreneurship with the idea of applying business type principles to social change or non-profits. That is to maximize impact, efficiency and developing strong tools of measurement and accountability.

Peacebuilders and individuals working in similar fields can learn a great deal from the field of social entrepreneurship and vice-versa. Some of the questions/themes we might want to consider as peacebuilders include:

Scaling up – How can the work that is being done be scaled up to have an impact at a larger level? How can this be done in a culturally appropriate and ethical manner?

Innovation – Are the tools that peacebuilders innovative? Are we doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Or are we seeking ways of innovating and learning from other innovative practices around the world?

Sustainability – There is extensive discussion of the importance of sustainability in peacebuilding. However in reality many projects are efforts may not be as sustainable as possible? Oneof the questions here is peacebuilding a business? A calling? Do peacebuilders have the right to earn a decent living? What happens as the field becomes professionalized?

I don’t want to insinuate that peacebuilding should be done as a business (although I think it is critically important to be aware as the field has professionalized it is becoming a business for diverse sectors), but do want to encourage people to reflect on the possible lessons from social entrepreneurship (and also the challenges).

Here are some of the key organizations in social entreprenuership (many of which also operate at the intersection of peacebuilding).

ASHOKA – is the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs—men and women with system changing solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems. One of their core activities is electing fellows (innovative social entrepreneurs) from around the world. Ashoka also maintains the Changemakers site, which is an Internet-based site that hosts competitions on innovative social entrepreneur solutions to critical social and policy issues.

SKOLL FOUNDATION -drives large-scale change by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems. One of their projects is the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship which provides funding (including organizations working on peace and conflict). The foundation also mantains the site Social Edge , which has extensive information on social entrepreneur opportunities

ECHOING GREEN – Each year, the organization awards 20 two-year fellowships to social entrepreneurs. Fellows receive up to $90,000 in seed funding and technical support to turn their innovative ideas into sustainable social change organizations.

ACUMEN FUND Supports entrepreneurial approaches to solving global poverty by providing a blueprint for building financially sustainable and scalable organizations that deliver affordable, critical goods and services to the poor.

THE NEW HEROES – WHAT IS SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP – A useful site from the Public Broadcasting Service
exploring some key individuals and organizations in the field.

GLOBAL GIVING provides an open, thriving marketplace that connects people who have community and world-changing ideas with people who can support them.

What are Other Useful Resources you would Suggest?

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