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Social Entrepreneurship

Skoll 2011 Interviews: Rod Schwartz, Lars Johansen, and Biju Mohandas

Interview with Rod Schwartz, founder of ClearlySo, a company that helps entrepreneurs with raising capital, team building, product sales, and financial management.

Of course, no social enterprise is possible without money, so many of Skoll World Forum participants were either looking for money to support their fantastic projects or looking for projects worthy of investment. I interviewed three people involved in impact investing.

Rod Schwartz is founder and CEO of ClearlySo, a company that helps entrepreneurs with raising capital, team building, product sales, and financial management and control.

When I asked what inspires him, Rod said he was driven by tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that means, “Repair the world.” While attending Skoll six years earlier, he realized three things: 1) He knew a lot of people who had great ideas, 2) lots of those ideas presented realistic opportunities, and 3) he saw a role for himself in helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams. 

In Rod’s opinion, governments and charities can often be ineffectual at addressing society’s greatest needs. He maintains that all too often people look on money with suspicion as if it were the cause of problems in the world. But he thinks the most successful social entrepreneur understands that it is important to leverage what exists in the market economy to bring positive results.

Lars Jannick Johansen is the founder and CEO of Denmark’s first social venture fund, The Social Capital Fund, which among other things, works to strengthen the social coherence and sustainability of the Danish welfare society.

Lars spoke a lot about the relationship between social enterprise and government. He suggested that attempts were made to not politicize the social entrepreneurship field. As a result, it is the policy makers, and not the social enterprises, that control social issues. He argued that social entrepreneurship had the capacity to really solve the issues in a cost-effective way, but that the challenge is in making social enterprises strong enough to “change the rules.” Lars said that marginalized people were not currently engaged and empowered through the political system. He said that in Denmark the social entrepreneurship sector was not yet strong enough to take responsibility for all these social issues, but that it was certainly gaining strength in key areas.

Lars referred to one of Einstein’s maxims that people do the same things over and over again but expect different results. He said that in order to break this cycle, it was necessary that we consider ways that we can proactively improve social entrepreneurship.

Biju Mohandas, the East Africa director for the Acumen Fund, is an example of someone proactively assisting social entrepreneurs. He is responsible for all of the Acumen Funds’ investments, operations, and business development activities in Africa.

Biju suggested that the great challenge in the social entrepreneurship space is training and retaining social entrepreneurs. He stressed that accountability and value judgments are important features of effective assistance—ideas easily overlooked where they are not stressed within a culture. He also argued that organizations need to share best practices.

Another key to Acumen’s work is developing a very close relationship with the people it works with through a model of patient capitalism—investors making long-term financial commitments and expect relatively low rates of return.

An effective leader, according to Biju, is one that inspires a great deal of respect for his fairness and balance. He commented that it was necessary to have a balance between the head and the heart, between accountability and generosity, between leading and listening, and between audacity and humility.

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