Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Samuelson on Social Entrepreneurship

Last Tuesday I invited several social entrepreneurs to comment on this year's Oxford Skoll Forum theme "enabling social innovation". One especially thoughtful comment was sent to me by Peter Samuelson. I asked Peter If he would mind my sharing his insights here, and I am happy to report that he doesn't.

I want you to know a little about Peter before you read his remarks. The following is taken from his biographical entry in the 2005 Skoll Forum notes.

Peter is both a successful feature film producer, and a successful social entrepreneur. He is the founder of three philanthropies that together have raised (as reported in his 2005 Skoll Forum biography) over $150 million for disadvantaged children.

In 1982 Peter established the Starlight Children's Foundation-a non-profit organisation dedicated to granting wishes for seriously ill children. He then expanded Starlight services to provide in-hospital entertainment. Today with chapters in the United States, Canada, Austrailia and the United Kingdom, Starlight benefits over 170,000 children every month.

In 1990 Peter brought Steven Spielberg and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf together to create the Starbright Foundation. This foundation develops media and technology based programs that educate and empower children to cope with the medical, emotional and social challenges of their illness. The Starlight and Starbright foundations have now merged into the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation.

In 1999 Peter founded First Star a charity that works to improve the public health, safety, and family life of America's abused and neglected children.

Peter sent his permission to me on Sunday from the Berlin International Film Festival where his film Man in the Chair is in the competition.

Peter writes:

What I have found works, personally and in teaching social entrepreneurship, to create the self-determination to face down the constant nay-sayers, is to first fully imagine and inhabit the final built-out version of what is intended. If one fully comprehends that final 'neighborhood' in advance, it results in three productive benefits, of which the third is relevant to your point:

* It is then vastly easier to conceptualize progressive stepping-stones from here to there.
* It flushes out aspects in the plan that need refinement.
* It creates a psychological sense of certainty that the "it" will in fact work, which is mandatory in facing down the inevitable nay-sayers on the way. Me, I'm able to think "I've been to Rome; so don't tell me Rome is impossible.... I've walked around it for hours".

There are also reasons why truly forward-thinking, out-of-the-box ideas flourish better when the social/corporate environment is small, entrepreneurial and as far from a built-out business as possible: I'm on my fourth major pro-social endeavor at the moment.... it was necessary, and infinitely easier, to create #'s 2 through 4 as stand-alone enterprises, rather than parts of the prior, happily running charities (I know.... I tried both ways!) Row-boats turn faster than oil tankers and corporate conservatism most often kills fragile new ideas. And the original thin rope which became the Brooklyn Bridge was first carried across the water in a row-boat. Seriously.... I just read that!

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Anonymous Elizabeth Laskar said...

Dear Peter,

Thank you for sharing your wise words. I also have come to realise the importance of the "use" of our imagination. As you have said it is finding the mechanism (that we most often loose when we grown into "life") to enable us to get back to reaching our imagination so we can realise and reach our true potential. I have just shared a snippet from your write up to the Young Leaders Interity Alliance - I sit on their board. I hope I get the chance to meet you if you are at the next Skoll event. The snippet I shared was " Row-boats turn faster than oil tankers and corporate conservatism most often kills fragile new ideas". Brilliant! Elizabeth Laskar

12:16 am  

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