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Investing in Social Entrepreneurship and Fostering Social Innovation

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Over the past decade or more, “social entrepreneurs” have been a leading force in innovation, experimentation, and change in education, health care, poverty alleviation, and other areas of human need both in the United States and around the world. Social entrepreneurs—individuals who develop innovative, results-oriented solutions to tackle serious social problems—are focused on implementing their solutions on a large scale to change an entire system, either by scaling their organization or inspiring others to replicate the idea.

Social entrepreneurs, like their counterparts in the private sector, boast unique personal characteristics that they use to successfully implement their ideas: creativity, inspiration, persistence, focus, and a willingness to take risks. Ventures created by social entrepreneurs are usually organized as non-profits, although some are for-profit but with a clear and direct social mission.

Leading social entrepreneurs, such as Wendy Kopp of Teach For America, Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, President Bill Clinton of the Clinton Global Initiative, and Muhammed Yunus of the Grameen Bank, have developed innovative, results-oriented models that are driving systemic change and reorienting the way philanthropists, the private sector and, increasingly, policymakers, are considering addressing some of society’s most intractable problems. Yet despite the successes of these leading social entrepreneurs, the impact and reach of their work is still limited.

The next administration can do more to expand the impact of the most successful social entrepreneurial models and to create a pipeline of future entrepreneurial efforts in the critical non-profit sector. This paper will identify some of the key ways in which policymakers can support the growth and spread of innovative non-profit solutions, and will offer some policy guidelines and a framework that the Center for American Progress intends to explore and expand during 2008.

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