Book Review: Getting Beyond Better
This is the kind of book a Social Entrepreneur must revert to whenever they feel stuck or uninspired. Yes, it’s that good. For the first time, Social Entrepreneurship has been contextualised and defined in a way that I understood and appreciated. Roger L Martin and Sally Osberg take you on a journey into the core concepts of social entrepreneurship and its nature using illustrations of individuals and enterprises that have redifined the world we live in in remarkable ways. Johannes Gutenburg and the Printing Press; Andrew Carnegie and Public Libraries; Molly Melching and Tostan; Andrea and Barry Coleman and Riders for Health; The Skoll Foundation; Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank; Jesse Jackley and Matt Flannery and KIVA. These are just a handful of the many social enterprises mentioned in Getting Beyond Better. My key takeaway from the book is the importance of context in any business. Not every solution applies to every situation. A good social entrepreneur understands that;
“There is a need to balance adaptation and adherence, not flowing too quickly from one vision to the next, but also not sticking stubbornly to a model that has stopped working.”
Social entrepreneurs see the problem, conceive a solution, build a model for change, and scale it and the process in which this happens is explained by Martin and Osberg in the following steps:
Step 1: Understanding the World
Understanding a particular status quo, how it came to be, and the forces that hold it in place is a crucial step that will help one formulate a strategy to fix an anomaly. Andrew Carnegie had a personal experience that helped him understand the necessity of having knowledge accessible to the less privileged. His understanding birthed the construction of Public Libraries all over the world. For Molly Melching to understand the plight of the Senagalese, she made it her mission to understand the existing status quo from the perspective of the “victims.”
Step 2: Envisioning a New Future
To effect any change, one has to have a plan but the plan starts with first seeing the end-goal. Grameen Bank and Kiva envisioned a world were funds were accessible to the disadvantaged. Riders for Health and Partners In Health wanted to see an end to “stupid deaths”. Getting Beyond Better gives many examples of enterprises that first envisioned a better equilibrium and worked towards it.
Step 3: Building a Model for Change
A plan is only as good as its execution. As part of this execution, the authors mention the importance of the value equation to the success of any social enterprise. “Social entrepreneurs seek to change the equilibrium for a marginalized or disenfranchised segment of society. Typically, that segment has little power to drive political change and limited capacity to pay the cost of an initiative to challenge the equilibrium.” Successful social entrepreneurs build their models for change with both cost and value in mind and factor in sustainability into the equation.
Step 4: Scaling The Solution
For most social entrepreneurs, their measure of scale is the level of impact and not necessarily the size or budget their organization has attained. What matters is the impact that has been made. The scale of impact and a real equilibrium change presents itself as the defining moment for an entrepreneur. A seismic shift in the status quo and a lot more beneficiaries to the product or services are benchmarks. Better yet is an adaptation of the same model by others. This assists in increasing impact and this is the ultimate goal for most.