One of the things I’ve appreciated most about my affiliation with UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Sector Leadership has been the opportunity to engage with organizations and individuals working in the democracy entrepreneurship space. From incorporating the topic in this class to experimenting with a fellowship exploring the infrastructure challenges facing some of these organizations and leaders last Spring, working at the intersection of democracy and innovation in this moment when our democracy is under threat has been a buoying experience.
Democracy entrepreneurship is an emerging concept. Essentially it is the idea that there are people bringing an entrepreneurial mindset to the work of democratic reform. Like social entrepreneurs – but different in some significant ways – these organizations operate in an ecosystem of funders, peers and organizational knowledge that both contributes to and hinders the ability of these groups to effect lasting change. Not just about solving problems, democracy entrepreneurship involves countering a well-funded opposition, which directly influences how these operations must be designed, funded and led. Most traditional definitions of social entrepreneurship don’t include work in the area of political reform, many specifically excluding activism, but I have included a discussion of this work both because of its importance in this moment and because looking at how organizations are applying an entrepreneurial approach to democracy reform provides a powerful context for exploring social entrepreneurship more broadly.
Yordanos Eyoel, the founder of Keseb, joined the class to talk about her work both supporting democracy entrepreneurs and as one herself. Prior to launching Keseb, Yordanos led New Profit’s Civic Lab, the first nonpartisan venture philanthropy initiative in the U.S. to invest in innovative solutions building civic trust and a strong civic culture in America. Yordanos began her talk for our class with an overview of the myriad existential crises we’re facing – climate change, pandemic and threats to our democracy - but she was quick to point out that in the face of these threats, there are also incredible positive things happening. Citing the work of Nossas in Brazil, Yordanos insisted that “paving a path toward a more inclusive model of democracy” requires understanding the drivers of democratic regression. She also emphasized that while US Democracy has declined sharply in the past decade, this decline reflects an enduring pattern that, as the nonprofit group Freedom House has reported, is both reflective of, and a contributor to, the larger global decline. The organization she founded, Keseb, was established to fill a gap in what Yordanos saw as an international perspective on in addressing the challenges facing pro-democracy organizations. Working with groups and leaders in the US, Brazil, India and South Africa, Keseb is building a global entrepreneurship ecosystem of pro-democracy entrepreneurs, activists, funders, and scholars to advance inclusive democracies. Yordanos left the students with three thoughts on what they might do to support these organizations:
After Yordanos’ talk, Melissa (our class’ graduate student assistant) shared a video presentation created by the Native American & Indigenous Business Association at Haas in honor of Indigenous People’s Day (I was surprised that Cal doesn't honor the holiday, but later realized that the federal holiday recognized is actually Columbus Day, so I suppose it's complicated). Melissa also shared a list of resources with the class including this primer for professors created by the Native American Law Students Association on including land acknowledgments.
The rest of the class was spent with the students self-organizing into new teams for the next assignment – a multimedia (podcast, blog series, website – it’s really their choice) presentation that dives more deeply into a topic of interest from the class or looks more closely at a social entrepreneur and their organization - and Lee Drutman’s “If America Had Six Parties, Which Would You Belong to ?” quiz that appeared in the New York Times special insert Snap Out of It America back in November 2021. For anyone interested in reading more about some of the work and ideas in democracy innovation, I highly recommend checking it out. I have often thought that just making one’s way through the supplement would be a great basis for a course on the subject. (And if anyone is doing this already, or decides to take it on, please let me know!)
This week we turn to B Corps and other hybrid social enterprises and will be joined by Haas alum, Kirsten Tobey, the Chief Impact Officer for Rev Foods. Readings for the week are: “Revolution Foods,” case study, Haas https://hbsp.harvard.edu/product/B5845-PDF-ENG
“Should Nonprofits Seek Profits?” Harvard Business Review, William Foster and Jeff Bradach https://hbr.org/2005/02/should-nonprofits-seek-profits
The B Corps Movement Goes Big:
People need meaning, the opportunity for mastery, and community to thrive. Creating opportunities for people to contribute, and to find their best selves is some of the most important work we can do.