While I was researching the book How to Change the World, I’d traveled through Poland, Brazil and India, and there came a point after about 50 interviews with Ashoka Fellows, that something just clicked. I had a déjà vu moment, and I realized I had heard the same story 20 times before. This probably happened in India when I was interviewing Jeroo Billimoria. And it occurred to me that there were these people on earth who operated according to a different set of principles. They wanted different things in life, they worked differently, they had more interactions on average with other people, they defined success differently.

Until then I always assumed there were forces in history that moved the world along and that these were forces in the air - political forces, movements, ideas. Suddenly, while talking to Jeroo, I got this profound sense that what moves history are these types of people, those with a different sense of motivations and ethics. It was one of those priceless moments when my whole worldview shifted in a second.

I began to look at things differently from then on – whenever I see anything dealing with social change, a different set of questions come to mind than I used to ask in the first 30-35 years of my life. In the past, when something was going wrong, the primary question that would come to my mind is: why did people allow these things to occur? How can we be so cruel and callous? But now, when I see problems that aren’t being solved, my first question is: what has prevented someone from fixing this problem? What are the barriers that have prevented innovators from addressing this? And then the barriers become very clear. They could be financial barriers or law & order barriers or simply that people still don’t appreciate how change really happens.

In almost any case, when I look at a set of problems, what Ashoka has given me is a sense of why those problems haven’t been solved and what needs to happen in each case for progress. Not that I always know the answers, but I get a gut feel of what the process of change would look like. And that makes me feel optimistic. Pretty much anything can be solved!

And I have come to believe that the systemic problem in addressing wrongs is usually a lack of awareness of how strong a concentration of energy and understanding is required for social change. And that’s why we need these highly concentrated bundles of energy we call social entrepreneurs.

This article was originally published on 18 May 2011
Related TopicsSocial Entrepreneurship

David Bornstein
Author of three books on social innovation including How to Change the World, which is often referred to as the bible for social entrepreneurship. David currently runs Dowser.org and co-authors a weekly column in the New York Times called Fixes, on new solutions to major social problems.

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