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The Four Stages of Social Entrepreneurship

By Roger Martin and Sally Osberg

Social entrepreneurs focus on the people most disadvantaged by our current system in order to bring a new equilibrium to modern life.

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Our four-stage Model for Equilibrium Change should not be thought of as a simplistic recipe, but rather, as a framework for thinking about the work of social entrepreneurship as a process. The four stages are:

1. Understanding the world.

The paradox of social transformation is that one has to truly understand the system as it is before any serious attempt can be made to change it. Yet those who understand the status quo best are often those most deeply invested in the current system, while those who see the imperative for change most clearly tend to sit outside the system, looking in. Effective social entrepreneurs acknowledge this dynamic, and find a way to navigate it.

2. Envisioning a new future.

To make a positive difference, every change agent needs to set a direction. Successful social entrepreneurs set the bar high, envisioning fundamental equilibrium change for specific, targeted constituents. They envision a stable and sustainable world that exists on a new, substantially healthier plane for the targeted population, and often, for society at large.

3. Building a model for change.

To bring a vision to life, social entrepreneurs must apply creativity and resourcefulness to building a model for change — one that is sustainable in that it reduces costs or increases value in a systemic and permanent way that can be quantified and captured.

4. Scaling the solution.

Scalability is a critical feature of successful social entrepreneurship. Models that require constant reapplication of the same level of investment regardless of scale will commonly fail to produce sustainable equilibrium change.

Roger Martin is academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management. He is ranked #7 on the Thinkers50 list of the world’s most influential management thinkers and is a director on the board of The Skoll Foundation. Sally Osberg is CEO and president of The Skoll Foundation and founder of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. They are the co-authors of Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), from which this is excerpted. The book was nominated for the 800-CEO-READ Award, in the Entrepreneurship category.

This above is part of a longer article called "Health and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which originally appeared in The Health Issue (Winter 2016) of Rotman Management Magazine.