Founder Spotlight: David Bornstein (Author of How To Change The World)

Editor’s Note: David Bornstein is the author of “How to Change the World,” which has been published in 20 languages, and “The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank,” and is co-author of “Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know.” He is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

His colleague Taylor Nelson is leading their efforts with a new offering called Solutions U, which aims to help universities incorporate real-time reporting in their courses on social innovation.

What is Solutions Journalism?

T: We’re redefining investigative reporting on social issues. We’re really focusing on how social entrepreneurs are actually making things happen – both the successes, and failures. And we’re always asking, “How can we inform each other better?”  

We can face challenges, and we can share the how-to’s and the insights that we’ve learned from the different way people are tackling issues like chronic homelessness, food waste, and access to healthcare.

David authored How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas.

Solutions Journalism is a nonprofit that provides training to newsrooms, along with open workshops, to improve investigative journalism when it comes to social impact. We value rigorous reporting on responses to social issues, and finding a way to make media a more useful feedback loop for society.

Our newest offering, Solutions U is an online learning hub to support teaching and learning about societal problems. As you can tell by the name, we’re oriented around solutions and responses, not problems. We really want to be able to share the nitty-gritty details of the tangible insights that people can pull out and apply.

Our Story Tracker is a database of rigorous reporting on how people are responding to social enterprises. We’ve already got over 2000 stories, created and maintained by the Solutions Journalism Network. It actually started off as a tool for journalists, but then we thought, “Hey let’s aggregate these stories to show other people what the path looks like”, and we use different media types to do that, including: short videos, podcasts, and articles.

Are there any resources social entrepreneurs should know about?

D: When I was a McGill student in management and trying to figure out my career, I was interested in social issues but didn’t know where to start.

Nobody was talking about business within the context of social entrepreneurship. Everybody wanted to work at an accounting firm! Today, business is a real tool for the betterment of the world – and there are many ways to apply it.

I wish I had a way to see the the kinds of things that people are doing around the world, whether it’s making an impact in health, innovative finance, or access to clean Having a map would have been a helpful resource. What does the path look like in real life? What does it mean to scale something? How can we build off the knowledge and failures of people who’ve already been there, done that?

When I started working on SJN, I was always trying to make it so that students could benefit from it.

I would also say check out the documentaries by the Skoll foundation, and look into Ashoka.

We don’t need 47 brands of soap on every shelf. It’s a shallow kind of variety.

How do you make people care?

D: You can’t make people care in isolation. Think about a great dinner party. It’s through the gathering that people are able to engage in ways that make them feel more alive. The same goes for social enterprise. Community is what makes that possible, and we’re trying to make it possible to share that in a way that scales.

Social enterprises have an advantage, however. The goal that the community is organized around is much more inherently meaningful than an ordinary business. You can get people excited about anything. But let’s say you work in a typical company where the product is not explicitly around a social purpose, like soap. It’s more difficult to get people organized around the idea of excellence and impact, which is WHY those companies need to provide other perks to retain their workers – the work is not inherently meaningful.

We don’t need 47 brands of soap on every shelf. It’s a shallow kind of variety.

…we can’t save the world with just 2000 people. The only way, is to get millions of people, and that’s only possible through collaboration.

What is the future of social entrepreneurship?

D: The main thing we’re headed towards is collaboration. We’re moving away from the idea that business is a for-profit sector. Everybody’s focused on becoming the best piping company in Cleveland or the best rideshare business.

Although it allows for tremendous growth and productivity, that doesn’t really matter in the social sector. Let’s say your organization wants to make sure every kid in America graduates from high school regardless of socioeconomic traits.The model of trying to become the biggest business makes no sense – we can only accomplish the goal if you create frameworks that allow tens of thousands of institutions to collaborate and innovate.

Let’s say you start with a team of 20 people in a social enterprise: even if you grow by a factor of 100, you’re only 2000 people and we can’t save the world with just 2000 people. The only way, is to get millions of people, and that’s only possible through collaboration.

Solutions journalism focuses on how to fix problems instead of getting lost in them.

What’s a very nitty-gritty way that Solutions Journalism is different from ordinary journalism?

D: We focus a lot more on “how-to” questions. “How did you finance your enterprise, how did you get political support, how did you avoid opposition from the labor unions, and avoid resentment from doctors and bureaucracy…how did you overcome the resistance?”

There’s a big difference between being able to inspire people, and actually being able to teach them the detail oriented work necessary to turn their vision into reality. The latter is often work that happens quietly without anyone paying attention. It can often be seen as dull and boring, and it requires durable motivation, but that’s where the real magic happens.

Check out Solutions Journalism to learn about rigorous reporting on social issues.

If you’re just getting started on the social entrepreneurship path, check out Solutions U to learn about societal problems and solutions.

And finally, if you’d like to share a story about your social enterprise, go to their Story Tracker.

Mo Akif

Mo Akif

The Editor-in-Chief of the McGill Dobson Chronicles. Never having started a lemonade stand as a child and tired of reading blog posts about entrepreneurship without actually doing anything, he was on the verge of giving up and joining a pyramid scheme. Luckily the McGill Dobson Centre decided to adopt him, allowing him to get a closer look at what it takes to build something valuable.