• Entrepreneur of the Month

Oxford's Pamela Hartigan on the Future of Social Entrepreneurship

AUGUST 2012:

OXFORD’S PAMELA HARTIGAN TEACHES US
HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD

By Hope Gibbs
Be Inkandescent

Entrepreneurial phenom Pamela Hartigan has been the director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship since January 2009. She has worked with many well-known members of the social entrepreneurial community—including micro-finance guru Muhammad Yunus (pictured above with Hartigan).

Of course, Hartigan is no stranger to running high-profile organizations. In 2008, she helped launch Volans Ventures, an organization focused on building innovative scalable solutions to challenges affecting our future.

Prior to that, she spent eight years as the first managing director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, (2000-2008), a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, where she was also on the Forum Managing Board. It is focused on advancing the practice of social entrepreneurship globally, building and supporting its community of practitioners whose efforts have achieved transformational social change.

In fact, the foreword of her book, “The Power of Unreasonable People,” is by World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab.

He gives us perspective on the history of social entrepreneurship, and how far the idea has come in the last four decades, explaining:

“No one did more to open our eyes to the the potential [of social entrepreneurship] than Muhammad Yunus. In the early 1970s, he began his tireless work to prove that poor women are creditworthy. How many more ‘unreasonable’ people like Yunus are out there? Hundreds, perhaps thousands.”

Knowing the potential of social entrepreneurship, supporting those who understand the concept, and promoting them, has been Hartigan’s lifelong mission.

Throughout her career, she has held varied leadership positions in multilateral health organizations and educational institutions, as well as in entrepreneurial nonprofits. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC, she also holds masters’ degrees in Economics and Public Health and a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. Her book was co-written by John Elkington, director of the international consulting firm SustainAbility, and published by Harvard Business Review Press.

Earlier this summer, we had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Hartigan when she stopped in at Oxford’s New York City office, before heading off to Brazil to speak at conference there.

Be Inkandescent: You are a frequent lecturer on social entrepreneurship and innovation at graduate schools of business in the USA, Europe, and Asia, and an adjunct professor at the Columbia Business School. Can you explain to us exactly what is social entrepreneurism?

Pamela Hartigan: Social entrepreneurship is a new word for something that has been around since people first came together in communities. It really is about applying innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness to create new approaches, new ways of doing things, and it seeks improved ways to do things that aren’t functional or aren’t working. It its essence, it is a mindset about how you approach an opportunity.

Be Inkandescent: You have been quoted as saying that entrepreneurs are an interesting breed, for they tend to see opportunities where the rest of us see major risks, and they go after those opportunities because they understand that there is a possibility of completely creating something new.

Pamela Hartigan: Indeed. And I find it a fascinating mindset, for most of us do not have that. Most people run away from things that we think are impossible. But entrepreneurs are drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Be Inkandescent: So you don’t believe there are many real entrepreneurs in the world?

Pamela Hartigan: No. But there are an awful lot of entrepreneurial wannabes, and that is one of the reasons we have this buzzword now—everyone wants to be an “entrepreneur.” But true social entrepreneurs are people who have a vision for combining purpose with sustainability. The important thing to recognize is that we all have the capacity to contribute to the kind of world we want to see.

This is new, because for the longest time entrepreneurs have tried to be successful in a world fragmented by an either-or choice: making money versus doing good. This has gotten us to a completely dysfunctional situation. Going forward, I believe that many of us will be part of a growing ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs—either from the financing perspective, legal perspective, or any type of other industry that the financial world has at its disposal. What’s important is that we need to be able to find financial sustainability for these big ideas.

Be Inkandescent: What are some of these new businesses that you see emerging?

Pamela Hartigan: There are so many! For example, in the area of technology, there are new tools being released that provide e-banking for the poor. And Jane Chen, who co-founded a company called Embrace, used her business and engineering savvy to come up with an innovative, low-tech baby warmer. Her product is saving millions of premature babies around the world who would not otherwise have access to incubators.

These aren’t charities, or short-term solutions to problems that will continue forever. These are solutions that are forever changing ancient systems and eradicating age-old problems.

That is what is really exciting about disruptive companies, because they are creating massive improvements—and not just because there are financial rewards waiting for them when they do. These social entrepreneurs are creating new models for survival and success in markets that no one else is looking at. It’s wonderful.

Don’t stop now! Click here to learn more from Pamela Hartigan.

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