The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook is a refreshing perspective on social entrepreneurship from the lens of acclaimed Wharton Professors Ian C. MacMillan and James D. Thompson. I had the opportunity to read the book and privilege to speak with the professors on the motivation behind the book. What I learned is that The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook is one man’s gift to the world, another one’s passion to change it, and the story of a myriad of entrepreneurial dreams.
Book in a Snapshot
Pick this book if you have the humility to start with a blank slate, an empty and open mind. The book gave me the feeling of learning a new language in excruciating detail. The book was chiseling away years of dreamy eyed glory I attached to social entrepreneurship and ever so lightly holding my hand to take me to the inner world, the workings, the failure and the challenges of social enterprises. If you have an idea that you would like to develop, if you know someone who has passion to make an impact and change the world, gift them this book, not to read it but to use it.
About the Authors
Ian C. MacMillan is the Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He is also the executive director of the school’s Sol C. Snider Entrepreneurial Research Center. He has taught at Columbia University, Northwestern University, and New York University. His articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and the Journal of Business Venturing, among others.
James D. Thompson, Ph.D. is the co-founder and director of the Wharton Social Entrepreneurship Program. His current research is focused on social entrepreneurship, future market growth, and investment under conditions of high uncertainty. Jim holds a Ph.D. from EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) and is published in the Harvard Business Review, Journal of Management, Long Range Planning, Management Science, Organization Science, and the Research-Technology Management Journal.
Excerpts from the interview
My interview with the two professors was filled with friendly banter. They even finished each other’s sentences. They form one of the greatest teams I will ever witness.
Tell us about how you come up with the idea of a playbook? What was the motivation?
Ian MacMillan: Back in 1999 I had a surgery and the doctor told me I had another eight years. I questioned if I had done anything worth a dime. I had written Harvard Business Review articles, co-authored books, but had I left a legacy? What will have I done in my life that would have made a difference? And then the thought occurred that what if we could positively literally exploit entrepreneurship that could lead to development of attractive business and give boost to the economy.
James D. Thompson: It really started out as a lunch conversation. The challenge was that social enterprise as a concept was not known and met with blank stares. We would have to test the idea and create data; conduct experiments to test hypotheses. When in 2006 – 07 we started witnessing a big swing in entrepreneurship, we questioned if it was a fad. The evidence proved otherwise – it was working effectively. We chose Zambia one of the most impoverished countries in the world.
You spoke about testing ideas to create data, did you consult social enterprises and learn from their success/failure?
The book references to social enterprises like the Zambia Feeds (an enterprise founded on poultry feed in Zambia), Ikotoilet (an enterprise focused on sanitation in developing countries), and Khaya Cookies (a South African initiative that employs locals and uses locally sources ingredients). These enterprises were inspiration for some parts of the book and also gained direction from it. Multiple parallel enterprises learned from each other giving us an opportunity to learn with them. This book is as much about failures as it is about successes. We did not wish to paint a rosy picture of social entrepreneurship, we wanted to increase the probability of success if your idea survives and evolves with the Tough Love Test.
‘Tough Love Test’ may dissuade or change course for budding entrepreneurs. How do you feel about that?
Ian: How dare they not get dissuaded? The amelioration of poverty is dependent on the huge amount of aid and financing for these enterprises. Any enterprise is obligated to deliver ‘Highest Social Impact per unit cost and per unit time.’ The ambition of the book is to empower entrepreneurs and eliminate wasting of funds. We have to be careful in leaving a light footprint even if the project fails, preserve resources to deploy them when there is highest probability of success.
James: We are committed towards highest impact to cost ratio for social enterprises. The development of this book started with on ground live cases and then theory.
The book seems to be prescriptive at times was this intentional? What have you heard from readers?
One unique thing about this book is that the structure and language has been adapted basis feedback from crowdsourcing. We made the first part of our book freely available and had 20,000 downloads with tons of feedback from around the world. This feedback inspired us to write a book for every individual and not necessarily a business audience. We heard stories from people on the impact of socio political obstacles and decided to expand that chapter. Today the book is being used as course book in John Hopkins, by donors to conduct due diligence. Social entrepreneurs have changed the direction of their venture or even decided not to move ahead after reading the book. But there is one statement common to each reader: ‘I am happy I read this book – it impacted the way I think.’ And that to us is success.
Whom did you receive support from?
James: Christopher Tucci, the dissertation chair for my Ph.D. at EPFL, and Marc Gruber, full professor at EPFL, were quintessential to development of this theory. They agreed on taking a radically different approach towards dissertation. We also received support and feedback from Wharton alumni who were excited to see Wharton striding ahead in the field of social impact.
Our area of focus is now shifting towards the role of large corporate entry into emerging markets. These entries capture value and create economy.