Entrepreneurship Industry News

The Four Books Every Social Entrepreneur Should Read

I live and work a stone’s throw from Harvard University’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As the leaves begin to turn, 150,000 students descend upon Cambridge, Boston, and the surrounding towns to attend one of the more than 50 colleges in the metropolitan area. A big chunk of those students will be studying business—and each year, more and more of those students come to class determined to use enterprise and entrepreneurship as forces for good.

These students will undoubtedly read the classic business texts. They’ll debate Christensen’s ideas on disruptive innovation and Drucker’s theories on management, and they’ll be able to recite Collins’ “Level 5 Leadership” traits and Porter’s “Five Forces” from memory. But if they really want to be on the cutting edge of business, they’ll look beyond the foundations to the industry’s next frontier: leveraging the power of business to better the lives of those whom market forces have left behind.

Hey, business students: if you want to play on that cutting edge, you’re going to need a bit of supplemental reading. And these four books are a great place to start.

Collectively, these books challenge leaders across all sectors to imagine a world in which markets work for the world’s most vulnerable people, and then figure out a way to make that world possible.

The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur, Jonathan Lewis

The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur is social impact pioneer Jonathan Lewis’ meditation on “the heart-mending, heart-ripping, heart-happy joy of social justice.” As Lewis says, this book is not a step-by-step manual for how to “do social entrepreneurship.” In fact, the book is less of a practical guide than a spiritual one. Reading Lewis’ meditations on issues such as preparation, passion and justice, any social entrepreneur will feel comforted by the knowledge that such an industry pioneer grapples with the same thorny issues that keep us up at night.

At some point, every entrepreneur feels the weight of shouldering responsibility beyond one’s own: a responsibility for the business and for the people it employs. For social entrepreneurs, that weighty responsibility is multiplied. Sure, I worry about meeting my organization’s budget each year and about finding (and retaining!) great talent—but I worry even more about our impact, whether it is good enough and, yes, whether I am good enough.

These are tough questions. But Lewis reminds us that we’re not alone in asking them. Meandering through the essays in this book, readers will feel both challenged and comforted. Challenged, because we’re reminded that we have a responsibility to work hard, to make sure we’re listening, to keep our hearts focused on making the world better. Comforted, because Lewis reminds us that we are all “unfinished.” No matter how great a social entrepreneur’s legacy, he or she will still face moments of doubt. And no matter how great the accomplishments, we always must strive to be better. Perfection, Lewis reminds us, is impossible to attain. School is always in session.

Read more: Forbes