A New Fashion in Goodness

A refreshing op-ed, written by David Brooks in the NYTimes, focuses on the trend of social entrepreneurship. Titled “Thoroughly Modern Do-Gooders,” the article is overall positive about the field and lauds its pioneers as “some of the smartest and most creative people.” Brooks likens the field to a growing fad:

Fashions in goodness change, just like fashions in anything else, and these days some of the very noblest people have assumed the manners of the business world — even though they don’t aim for profit. They call themselves social entrepreneurs, and you can find them in the neediest places on earth.

Brooks also differentiates this wave of social entrepreneurship with past experiments:

The older do-gooders had a certain policy model: government identifies a problem. Really smart people design a program. A cabinet department in a big building administers it.

But the new do-gooders have absorbed the disappointments of the past decades. They have a much more decentralized worldview. They don’t believe government on its own can be innovative. A thousand different private groups have to try new things. Then we measure to see what works.

He attests that these new do-gooders are in some way redefining the connotation of the word since “they are data-driven and accountability-oriented,” instead of merely ideological. Social good as an end is not the simple case any more; the drive and means are just as relevant.

Most importantly, Brooks raises the question of how best to encourage and take advantage of this burst of social innovation. What types of policies, programs, funds, etc . need to exist in order to maximize on this age of creativity by modern do-gooders?

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One Response

  1. The government needs to be willing to put money in the hands of social entrepreneurs and trust them to do good with it and not give money with earmarks for how the money is to be used or excessive bureaucratic requirements that will burden the entrepreneurs. If that cannot be done then they need to get out of the way.

    The government can let the social entrepreneurs develop programs and then help out when the issue becomes about scale. Ashoka, mentioned in the article, has a very good track record of the programs of their Fellows being eventually adopted into national policy.

    The government can aid in creating structure for financing. A great article in those regards:
    http://ashoka.org/files/Market%20Based%20Solutions%20%28UBS&Ashoka%29.pdf
    I also think the B Corporation group is making some great progress:
    http://www.bcorporation.net/about/

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