The Age of Ambition (Nicholas D. Kristof, NY Times, 1/27/2008)
With the American presidential campaign in full swing, the obvious way to change the world might seem to be through politics.
But growing numbers of young people are leaping into the fray and doing the job themselves. These are the social entrepreneurs, the 21st-century answer to the student protesters of the 1960s, and they are some of the most interesting people here at the World Economic Forum (not only because they’re half the age of everyone else).
Andrew Klaber, a 26-year-old playing hooky from Harvard Business School to come here (don’t tell his professors!), is an example of the social entrepreneur. He spent the summer after his sophomore year in college in Thailand and was aghast to see teenage girls being forced into prostitution after their parents had died of AIDS.
So he started Orphans Against AIDS (www.orphansagainstaids.org), which pays school-related expenses for hundreds of children who have been orphaned or otherwise affected by AIDS in poor countries. He and his friends volunteer their time and pay administrative costs out of their own pockets so that every penny goes to the children.
Mr. Klaber was able to expand the nonprofit organization in Africa through introductions made by Jennifer Staple, who was a year ahead of him when they were in college. When she was a sophomore, Ms. Staple founded an organization in her dorm room to collect old reading glasses in the United States and ship them to poor countries. That group, Unite for Sight, has ballooned, and last year it provided eye care to 200,000 people (www.uniteforsight.org).
In the ’60s, perhaps the most remarkable Americans were the civil rights workers and antiwar protesters who started movements that transformed the country. In the 1980s, the most fascinating people were entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who started companies and ended up revolutionizing the way we use technology.
Today the most remarkable young people are the social entrepreneurs, those who see a problem in society and roll up their sleeves to address it in new ways. Bill Drayton, the chief executive of an organization called Ashoka that supports social entrepreneurs, likes to say that such people neither hand out fish nor teach people to fish; their aim is to revolutionize the fishing industry. If that sounds insanely ambitious, it is. John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan title their new book on social entrepreneurs “The Power of Unreasonable People.”
I like to call this the "purpose-driven voluntary sector," as distinct from (a) the profit-driven voluntary sector, i.e. the private sector, and (b) the purpose-driven coercive sector, i.e., the public sector. Its role is reminiscent of the religious orders in the Middle Ages, groups like the Franciscans and the Dominicans, or the Templars and Hospitallers who fought in the Holy Land. It includes universities, NGOs, churches, the blogosphere, Wikipedia, and so on. Its aims and its loyalties transcend both the self-interest of individuals and the interests of national states. It is a major driver of innovation and progress. It is growing in influence and power.