Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Strategic Lessons for Nonprofits from Business Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Monday, November 29, 2010


While THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN will, for obvious reasons, be thought of as a book about malaria, it is also about the lessons the social sector can learn from innovators and business entrepreneurs, like Steve Hoffman who started a Rockville, Maryland biotech company called Sanaria to tackle one of the toughest problems in the world – a problem affecting people so marginalized and voiceless that there are no traditional economic markets or political markets for solving it.

In Washington and the other centers of government that we look to for solutions to social problems, the battle over how to solve our toughest and most controversial problems usually revolves around spending more money or less money, government taking a bigger or smaller role, and the right and left poles of the culture wars. But from today’s unprecedented convergence of science, entrepreneurship and philanthropy there is emerging a set of problem solving strategies that until now have been widely overlooked.

The book, describes six strategic lessons learned, which I summarize below.

First: Invest in bringing existing solutions to scale rather than discovering new ones

Second: Most failures are not failures of planning, strategy, resources, organization or discipline, but failures of imagination.

Third: It is incumbent upon social entrepreneurs to not only develop solutions but to make them affordable, to explore the economic that will enable them to deliver their product or service for “a dollar a dose.”

Fourth: When markets don’t exist they must somehow be created; or at least proxies or substitutes for market forces must be employed as an alternative.

Fifth: Solving problems, not salving them, creates the most compelling return on investment.

Sixth: What is needed in the nonprofit sector even more than collaboration is a commitment to compete at every level and to not expect first rate outcomes with second rate inputs.