←   Updates & Perspectives

Billy's Book Bag - August Edition

Three books Genii Earth CEO Billy Afghan recommends you consider reading and why.

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas 

By David Bornstein  

Originally Published 2007, new foreword by author in May 2020  

Is it possible to have a “formula” for taking on seemingly intractable social challenges and not only transforming them, but also scaling them to create lasting sustainable change?  

In his book, David Bornstein chronicles the lives of individuals with common characteristics, approaches, perspectives, and practices who have single-handedly transformed the world in which they live for the betterment of society. Looking back in recent history, Bornstein profiles dozens of individuals, sparked with an idea, who have taken on the establishment to transform perspectives, practices, policy and society itself to improve the lives of millions of people. One of the ways Bornstein paints the picture of these social entrepreneurs is through the eyes of Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of the Ashoka Foundation. The mission of Ashoka is to seek out social entrepreneurs in every corner of the world and be the wind in their sails to create positive change. Drayton has made it his life’s work to understand who these individuals are and how to find them to help accelerate much needed social change all over the world. 

Examples of characteristics of a social entrepreneur include:   

  • Having an idea that they are deeply committed to regardless of what it costs personally, emotionally or financially… Consider protecting street children in India, providing electricity to poor farmers in rural Brazil, and treating people with disabilities as fellow human beings who deserve care and respect in Hungary.  
  • Knowing it’s never about being right, it’s always about the mission. Social entrepreneurs are committed to realizing the idea, but not attached to how it happens, enabling them to more easily accept how they might be wrong in their approach and utilize the input from others to accelerate change.  
  • Being relentlessly tenacious in making something happen and unstoppable in their drive to accomplish their goal.  They don’t take no for an answer. 
  • Always engaging the everyday person, particularly children and underutilized non-professionals, who are not entrenched in the existing system, to see new ways of doing things.  
  • Looking to scale solutions in the form of regional, national, and even global policy change to ensure it is sustainable beyond their own drive. 

Bornstein’s book asks the question: what idea am I so passionate about that I am willing to give my whole life to making it happen? Certainly, being clear on one’s purpose creates a focus that enables one to hold more, more lightly.  

Finally, I am intrigued that we have thousands of books on the characteristics of entrepreneurial leaders in the business world and yet, so little is shared about solutions being created and expanded in the social change arena.  Being a social entrepreneur in the times we are in, is indeed, an idea whose time has come. 

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know  

By Malcolm Gladwell 

Published September 2019  

Do you consider yourself a good judge of character?  How do you know what you know about people you meet for the first time? Talking to Strangers explores these well documented stories to help us understand how the collective tools and strategies we use to make sense of people can be so consistently wrong that it’s dangerous. From Hitler to Bernie Madoff, Amanda Knox and CIA double agents, we get the benefit of hindsight to show that as humans we default to significant bias.  Gladwell, through his own detailed analysis of human behavior, suggests that we unwittingly are exchanging peace of mind (or righteousness) for the truth.  This polarity of wanting to assume the best and always seeing the worst in people is a difficult balance. Both history and data tell us that we are getting it wrong in ways that really matter. For example, Judges who want to look into the eyes and speak to a defendant before sentencing seems like a humane thing to do, yet, are several times more likely to make a bad decision about repeat offenders than a computer algorithm that only looks at data in a file on the same person. 

This was a fast and effortless read. One of the ways this book is so compelling is that the audio version is narrated by Malcom himself.  You hear the voices and news stories as they were reported at the time they occurred, including audio cuts from arrest footage of high-profile cases.  

After this read, I find myself paying attention to my own narrative. When I meet people for the first time, I ask myself, “How it is that I know what I think I know about them?” I am expanding my own tools and strategies for making sense of the world around me and the people in it. Gladwell has inspired me to ask better questions rather than jumping to conclusions that may have serious detrimental effects. 

Poverty By America 

By Matthew Desmond 

Published March 2021 

If you asked yourself, “In what ways am I personally contributing to the persistence of poverty in America?”, what would you say? Would you have plausible deniability?  

Desmond’s new book, Poverty by America, is an explosive indictment for those of us who might be oblivious to the ways in which we are actively contributing to the persistence and deepening of poverty in America.  This instant New York Times best seller is a passionate appeal to those who may be unaware of how individual, everyday actions are actively contributing to this persistence, to look closely at ourselves and ask hard questions. Every time we pay to access exclusive products, services, or locations, the price is paid through lowering the well-being of the community. This creates a greater gap between the haves and the have-nots. Desmond makes his case through history, data and his own field reporting on the widening divide and who is benefiting from it. He does a brilliant job of breaking the stereotype that people in poverty have “just” made bad choices. He clearly identifies the systems that are in existence that force those less fortunate with only choices between bad or even worse. He raises difficult moral questions and offers ways of thinking and being in the world to help shift the trajectory of poverty.  He argues that if you are not an active poverty abolitionist, you may not be doing enough.  

For me, Desmond has done something that very few people can.  He directly ties the effects of how we live every day to the suffering of those we may never meet.  From private club memberships to silence on below-poverty wages for hard working people, we tend to accept these as market forces beyond our control.  But are they? Do we need that exclusive club membership that amplifies the division of wealth? Does a business have the right to exist if they can’t pay a living wage? These are the tough questions Desmond lays squarely at our feet.  

By asking ourselves how we personally contribute to poverty in America, we may also find insightful ways in which we can be the cause to eliminate it. 

If you enjoyed this, would you share it with someone important to you?