Lessons learnt from the book “How to Change the World” by David Bornstein

David Bornstein tells the story of social change-makers from South Africa to Brazil, Hungary to the United States and India to the United Kingdom. He takes us through the everyday lives of these remarkable people, giving insight into the struggles of effecting a new order and changing lives in local communities. David Bornstein writes in a conversational tone and mostly in first-person as he quotes the innovators from his interviews, narrates interactions with beneficiaries and explains his experience as he travels to the communities. The result is the easy to read and insightful book which can easily pass as a manual to creating lasting change.

“How to Change the World” is undoubtedly the best book I have read since my social entrepreneurship journey began. The stories of the reformers proliferate the idea that every change begins with a vision, is driven with an obsessive desire and an unwavering belief in the rightness of an idea.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Every change begins with a vision and a decision to take action rather than complain
  • Creating social change is resource-intensive; it requires influence and finance
  • The character of the social innovator is a core determinant of the level of success and sustainability
  • Social reformers are obsessive and dogged in their belief albeit flexible in delivery
  • Your worst critics are the gatekeepers of the norm
  • It pays to write letters and cast your net widely
  • Policymaking and legislation should be every social innovator’s maternity
  • A long term strategy is important
  • Beneficiaries need tangible short-term results
  • Social issues are cross-disciplinary and have deeper causes than what we see on the outside
  • Social entrepreneurship has a lifecycle; Apprenticeship, launch, takeoff and maturity
  • Process documentation is necessary
  • Listen to people and utilize feedback
  • Multiply yourself by training others and adopting local champions
  • Social change requires time before it becomes evident
  • Every community is different.

The innovators featured in “How to Change the World” reformed different sectors in different countries, on different levels. While Veronica Khosa pioneered a home-based care model for treating AIDs and other chronic disease patients in South Africa, James Grant led a global campaign for immunization and marketed cheap ORS for dehydration. In India, Jeroo leveraged signed international treaty, her expertise and network to grow Childline and help the millions of children on the street assess life-saving help when they need it the most. Other innovators led change in the educational sector, disability, energy access and inclusion.

The reformers interviewed in the book were mostly Ashoka’s fellow and David Bornstein effectively showed the importance of change-makers like Bill Drayton who look to provide critical institutional support to local social innovators.

If you have read the book, I will like to hear the lessons learnt from you.


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