Archive for February 5th, 2007

Schwab Social Entrepreneurs

February 5th, 2007

I spent last week in Switzerland attending two related events. The first was the annual gathering of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in Zurich, and the second was the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The WEF was founded by Claus Schwab in the 1970’s with the goal of improving the state of the world. In 1998 Claus created the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Social Entrepreneurs are people who use entrepreneurial techniques to achieve social or humanitarian ends. (Generally this means developing ways to help people help themselves rather than giving to charities which disperse funds or resources, but which don’t necessarily help the recipients to help themselves). Sometimes social entrepreneurship carries the idea of using market forces to cause changes as well. The Schwab Foundation has a more complete definition here, and a list of current Social Entrepreneurs can be found here.

The days I spent with these folks were fascinating; they are extremely creative and focused people. Nicholas Kristoff wrote a column in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “Do-Gooders With Spreadsheets” (registration required on to view). They understood intuitively the Mozilla Foundation’s role of keeping the Internet an open platform, where many people can plug in at different levels in a decentralized fashion. They understood that we generate revenue to support this goal, but that the mission is paramount.

A number of the Schwab Social Entrepreneurs have created organizations that generate revenue to support their mission. This is the first group I have found where a number of people have created financially self-sustaining mission-driven organizations. The Mozilla Foundation has been working on many of the same questions. It was invigorating to spend time with other people who are working through similar issues.

My husband, who attended both events (which are rare in inviting spouses) noted that the Social Entrepreneurs were among the most vibrant, affirming people he met at either event. I’ve avoided “Social Entrepreneurs” in the past because somehow the term created a barrier. But having met a few of them now, I find myself very drawn to this group.

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