Book review - Getting Beyond Better: how social entrepreneurship works. Roger L. Martin & Sally

Drawing on the experience from the Skoll Foundation, Getting Beyond Better examines the successes and challenges that social entrepreneurs have faced and sheds light on the different characteristics that enables them to make lasting change. The four paths to transformation it identifies are:

  1. Understanding the world: Social entrepreneurs take time to understand the context and status quo - how it came to be and also the forces that hold it in place. Only by taking the time to deeply understand why things are the way the are - the cultural norms, the economic conditions, the legislative and policy frameworks and the market drivers, can ideas of adaptation and transformation begin to be shaped.

  2. Envisioning a new future: Through developing an understanding of the status quo a successful entrepreneur builds an idea of what they seek to achieve based on equilibrium change rather than one that preserves and perpetuates the current state.

  3. Building a model for change: The model’s function is to bridge the social entrepreneur’s vision for a transformed equilibrium to the new state. To do this successfully, the model has to address the dynamics of cost and value in a new way. Costs being the economic side - the capital or operating costs, and the value side - the benefits experienced to society beyond the direct financial cost of providing the service. Social entrepreneurs consider value and cost more broadly and systematically and build models to shift them in a sustainable way.

  4. Scaling the solution: Scale tends to be a preoccupation for those that fund or incubate ventures with a focus on outcomes including geographical reach or numbers covered. Martin and Osberg argue that it’s actually scale of impact that is important. How effective has the enterprise been in shifting the equilibrium that it seeks to change? A differentiator in the social enterprise space is recognising the value of engaging others to help realise that shift - leveraging the activities of others; offering thinking and practices to others to use; and inviting imitation. Though not directly attributable to the social enterprise, such actions ensure that the impact of scale can be achieved.

Beyond Better inspires the reader to question whether they have what it takes to take issues on, why they want to transform injustice and whether they’re willing to commit to do what it takes to succeed. Put simply, are they capable of imagining a different future? “For social entrepreneurs, simply making things better isn’t good enough. They imagine the future as it should be, and they ask, ‘why not?’.” With the learnings accumulated by organisation like the Skoll Foundation that drive social transformation, why not indeed.