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Bill Drayton sees a world where ‘everyone is a changemaker’

Bill Drayton founded Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, which now has put about 3,000 social entrepreneurs into the field all over the world, three decades ago. A college professor once described him as having “the determination of Job and the brains of a Nobel laureate.” Says Drayton: “The life purpose of the true social entrepreneur is to change the world.”

Bill Drayton, the godfather of social entrepreneurs, argues we must move quickly into an ‘everyone is a changemaker’ world, where ever-changing teams of entrepreneurs address the challenges facing humanity.

If you want to find out what’s happening in the world of social entrepreneurs, you can’t do better than ask Bill Drayton: especially since he’s the person who first coined the term “social entrepreneur” and is an acknowledged pioneer in the field.

Mr. Drayton is well-known as the founder and CEO of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, which now has about 3,000 social entrepreneurs in the field all over the world. This year marks 30 years since the first Ashoka fellows began their work. He has won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship. In 2006, Harvard University named him one of its 100 “Most Influential Alumni.” In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctorate from New York University and the Essl Social Prize, for his work creating and building the field of social entrepreneurship.

According to David Bornstein’s book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, one of Drayton’s college professors once described him as having “the determination of Job and the brains of a Nobel laureate.” “The life purpose of the true social entrepreneur is to change the world,” Drayton has said. “he or she simply cannot come to rest in life until his or her vision has become the new pattern societywide.”

In an interview last week in Boston Drayton frequently evoked his mantra that “Everyone is a changemaker.”

“Whether it’s a large traditional social service organization, and you can quickly think of some, or a large bureaucratic corporation, they’re both dead,” he says. “The future is for the entrepreneurs in any sector.”

Some portions of that wide-ranging interview are below, condensed and somewhat rearranged – since Drayton tends to move quickly from subject to subject, idea to related idea, regardless of the original question asked.

You coined the term “social entrepreneur.” Who is a social entrepreneur and who isn’t?

Bill Drayton: Understanding social entrepreneurship is a challenge. It’s getting less so because people are understanding it more.

Entrepreneurs are about changing the system, the larger patterns. That’s where we make the distinction between entrepreneur and changemaker.

Most people use the word entrepreneur, and they don’t have a clue what an entrepreneur is.

It’s not defined by subject matter. A) They’re an entrepreneur so it’s about fundamental change. And B) they’re committed to the good of all.

It’s not “corporate social responsibility” – a little footnote off at the edge – but right at the core. This person is totally committed to the good of everybody, the whole society.

I think this is where society in general is headed in the future and these people are already there.

And social entrepreneurs use the terminology and the techniques of the business world?

This is another thing that is very confusing. Traditionally, when you start thinking about “entrepreneur” you start thinking about business. But [nursing pioneer] Florence Nightingale was a brilliant entrepreneur. [Education reformer] Maria Montessori was. Saint Francis of Assisi was. None of these people were in business.

Around 1700 business become entrepreneurial and just took off and became highly productive and grew in scale and globalized.

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