The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof visited the World Economic Forum at Davos last week and came back impressed by the idea of social entrepreneurship. As his column observes today:
But perhaps the most remarkable people to attend aren’t the world leaders or other bigwigs.
Rather, they are the social entrepreneurs. Davos, which has always been uncanny in peeking just ahead of the curve to reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, swarmed with them. . . .
Glad as I am to have such an accomplished and thoughtful writer as Mr. Kristof celebrate the concept of social entrepreneurship, I felt some clarification was in order as to its so-called Davos connections. I posted the following comment on the NYT web site earlier today. Since a Times Select account is required in order to view columns and post comments (they are experiencing a bit of a financial pinch as you may know), I have reprised my comment below. I will have more on the annual Davos spectacle later in the week.
It is unfortunate that the World Economic Forum at Davos was the catalyst for Mr. Kristof’s insightful column. Davos is not exactly the spiritual center of the social entrepreneurial movement, conventional wisdom notwithstanding. I first wrote about the idea of social enterprise in 1977 (that’s not a misprint), and it has been a continuing part of my venture capital activity for more than three decades. Mr. Kristof’s observation about Davos being “ahead of the curve” on this point is therefore somewhat amusing, though I am sure well intentioned.
One of the more interesting new dimensions to the social enterprise field are the knowledge innovators who are using the Internet and social media tools to help empower individual stakeholders in their dealings with business and government, which generally suffer from an imbalance of information, power and resources. Whether the goal is helping to make consumers better informed or citizens more efficacious in tackling issues from global trade to global warming, you can anticipate far-reaching changes in the way institutions function because of the work of these knowledge entrepreneurs in the years ahead. I suspect this will not be something the disciples of Davos will wish to encourage too strongly.
The fact remains that Davos attracts only a tiny portion of this amazingly transformative force in the world. Most are too busy or too modest to contemplate a trip up the mountain and would, in any event, feel uncomfortable, as many others do, with this annual display of overreaching ego and power. Davos has essentially become the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) of CEOs.
That’s not where self-respecting social entrepreneurs want to be.