Stanford Social Innovation Review : Informing and inspiring leaders of social change

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Eight Social Entrepreneurs Tell Their Personal Stories

SSIR editors select eight books by leading social entrepreneurs about their personal journeys along the path to social change.

In his article “Between the Quick Exit and the Long Sojourn,” SSIR contributor Daniel Ben-Horin writes: “This ‘making a difference’ stuff can be a real grind, as it turns out.”

I think most social change leaders would agree. The good news is that if you take “the grind” that many social entrepreneurs face daily, and then shake out all of the moments of inspiration, curveballs, and transformative personal experiences along the way, you will often have a really good story to tell.

Here are some of the best of these stories that we at SSIR have read, reviewed, and excerpted over the past year.

A Fistful of Rice: My Unexpected Quest to End Poverty Through Profitability
By Vikram Akula, reviewed by Jonathan C. Lewis
Akula tells the story behind SKS Microfinance—a social enterprise that, in a controversial move after the book’s publication, became the second microfinance institution to sell shares of the company to the public. The book offers some fundamental insights for social entrepreneurs, and as SSIR reviewer Lewis writes, “In the end, Akula reveals himself to be the quintessential entrepreneur: pragmatic, persistent, a bit pushy, and—as he himself admits—egotistically overconfident. This, it turns out, is a winning combination.”
Read the review.

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
By Jacqueline Novogratz
Novogratz tells a personal story about her career from international banker to social entrepreneur to founder and CEO of the nonprofit Acumen Fund, which invests patient capital in companies tackling global poverty. Novogratz shares both her mistakes and successes, and, in a particularly moving section, discusses her experiences in Rwanda before and after the genocide.
Find out more.

Bright Lights, No City: An African Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan (2012)
By Max Alexander
Reviewed by Sam Goldman
Alexander tells the story of his brother Whit’s quest to bring environmentally safer, rechargeable batteries to the developing world, specifically Ghana. SSIR reviewer Goldman describes the book as "a rollicking and detailed recounting of what it takes to build a business in a country with no retail infrastructure. … More important to budding social entrepreneurs, the story illuminates the challenges many social enterprises face, and the important trade-offs between developing products and delivering products affordably and sustainably to families living on a few dollars per day."
Read a review.

Getting to Bartlett Street: Our 25-Year Quest to Level the Playing Field in Education
By Joe and Carol Reich
“Families of means can afford to send their children to private schools or relocate to a neighborhood of affluence where the public schools have greater resources. The poor cannot. We recoiled against this injustice. We made it our own struggle.” This book describes how the Reiches’ personal struggle with inequality in education led to the Beginning with Children Foundation, which opened the first charter-like, independent public school in New York City in 1992. The authors also share the many lessons they learned along the way.
Read an excerpt.

Hotel Africa: The Politics of Escape
By G. Pascal Zachary
In 2000, after three hours of interviews with a group of young African soldiers about war and killing, Zachary asked to see something of Africa that was beautiful. So begins his journey to find and tell a different story of Africa, "... to explain forces that act on African affairs in often unrecognized ways … [and] celebrate concrete, commonplace African realities—realities that invite us to understand and engage Africa and Africans more deeply, and on a far more equal basis than we achieve by approaching Africans as objects of sympathy or assistance."
Read an introduction by the author.
Read an excerpt.

KaBOOM! How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play
By Darell Hammond
Reviewed by Paul Connolly
The organization that Hammond started to create outdoor space for kids in 1995 has met with remarkable success—it’s built more than 2,000 new playgrounds, and has a million volunteers and a $20 million operating budget. His book describes this amazing journey to scale. It also, as Connolly says, “… tells an uplifting story about how he took the organization to scale and matured as a manager, advocate, and leader. … By reading it, social entrepreneurs … will get some solid, practical advice about how to grow a social enterprise, adapt programs and operations along the way, and amplify impact.”
Read the review.

The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on The Brink Of Change
By Roger Thurow
In his SSIR introduction to this book, Thurow writes: "In the emergency feeding tents of Ethiopia, I found my passion and developed a single-minded pursuit of the story that had come to seem more important to me than any other: Why were people still dying of hunger at the beginning of the new Millennium when the world was producing—and wasting—more food than ever before?" In this story, Thurow chronicles his year spent with four Kenyan farmers who struggle to grow enough food to support their families, then decide to form of an agricultural cooperative through One Acre Fund.
Read an introduction by the author.
Read an excerpt.

Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, A Memoir
By Wael Ghonim, reviewed by Micah L. Silfry
A riveting memoir by Google marketing executive and Egyptian revolutionary Wael Ghonim, this book traces his personal journey to becoming an Internet activist who helped spark the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising. SSIR reviewer Silfry calls his story “… an inspiring illustration of a trend. That is, how a new generation that is growing up networked keeps spawning ‘free radicals’—people who teach themselves how to use technology to build community, share powerful messages, and ultimately weave movements for social change.”
Read the review.

For more, browse SSIR’s archive of book reviews, including those in the Fall 2013 issue, and book excerpts.

Read more stories by Jenifer Morgan.

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