Books that influenced my thinking about social innovation

Books that influenced my thinking about social innovation

This last holiday weekend, I decided to clean out the closet where we store holiday decorations and opened a box of old books... dusty artifacts that had meaning and influence in my thinking at a point in time.

There were three books in particular that I just had to reopen and see how my perspective and their advice or predictions had fared over time.

Here’s what I rediscovered and evaluated in light of my 20-year career in social change initiatives:

Beyond Charity by John Perkins

Dr. Perkins is a civil rights leader and co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association. He helped me put my faith into action and take my first steps in my community economic development career.

His 3 R’s (reconciliation, relocation and redistribution) became a mantra for holistic development, and the time I spent with him personally influenced several of my life decisions.

He has since written multiple books and still inspires young people today, so any book by Dr. Perkins inspires.

John Perkins
I drink coffee many mornings in this mug and think of John Perkins fondly​​

Bowling Alone by Robert Putman

This book is about how we’ve lost our sense of community and our subsequent shift towards individualism.

It documents a 50-year decline of civic involvement in clubs such as bowling leagues, hence the title.

Today his new book The Upswing encourages us that trends in American society show that we can swing back to an egalitarian community mindset. I look forward to reading his new book over the holidays and would love to hear from you if you read it too.

The Price of a Dream by David Bornstein

This book recounts the fascinating story of Mahamad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient from Bangladesh.

Yunus bridged the gap between traditional banking and micro-businesses, and was a change agent and father of the microcredit industry designed to lift people out of poverty.

Combined with my personal experience studying microcredit in south India, it showed me how giving women and the poor access to credit and small resources can have a tremendous impact over time.

Today, the Yunus Foundation sponsors innovation challenges to spur the next generation of change leaders.

Social Innovation, Inc by Jason Saul

Saul’s 2011 book outlines the path from corporate social responsibility--having statements that say, “We value this”--to a new approach of intentionally creating products, services, and/or supply chains that align with these values and create economic and social impact.

He also challenged nonprofits to sell their outcomes to corporations, rather than seek charitable funds from their foundations. I was worried that while larger corporations might have good intentions, they might not be willing to pay the full cost to deliver impact over time. Also, they might leave out smaller firms who couldn’t compete, and in essence, do the opposite of what they intended.

But in 2019, there was a glimmer of hope when the U.S. Business Roundtable published a statement on the Purpose of a Corporation that was signed by hundreds of US CEOs. It called for a shift from primarily making decisions based on their shareholders' interests, to now taking into account the larger stakeholders’ interests as a core principle of corporate governance.

This is a principle of doing business that is more inclusive and might be a step towards the realization of Saul’s ideas of social innovation from corporations. While this is a good first step, I still remain cautiously optimistic.

In conclusion...

I’ve seen how these books have given me a holistic view of helping solve social problems. Starting local, being innovative and creating social enterprise business models. I also see my bias towards locally driven and more democratic approaches to solving problems.

So what are the books that have influenced you in the past and how do you see them now?

Shoot me an email at paul@wrightventureservices.com and share with me which those are and if you have any thoughts on the books I’ve listed!