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 / Spring 2012 / Issue 66(originally published by Booz & Company)


Linda Rottenberg’s High-Impact Endeavor

“Gates really showed that whether entrepreneur or social entrepreneur, it’s the same type of person, the same mind-set, the same drive to solve problems,” says Rottenberg. “After all, the best entrepreneurs aren’t worried about money or exit strategies. They’re solving problems. And I think that some of the world’s greatest problems to be solved aren’t the next microprocessing chip, but rather what we do about economic development, healthcare, education, and the environment.”

Rottenberg says that social entrepreneurs need to ask themselves three basic questions: What’s currently being overlooked by both the government and the private sector? Where’s the need, the gap, the pain point? Where’s the opportunity to bridge a gap? She believes that a major shift is occurring: Lines are becoming increasingly blurred between the sectors, and she envisions a growing number of sector-ambiguous, boundary-pushing entities that aim to combine the best of each sector and pursue the social good while discarding unwanted characteristics such as inefficiency, corruption, and a lack of accountability. “There’s a merger now between the real for-profit companies that are trying to integrate social purpose into their core, especially in areas like the environment and clean tech, and nonprofits that realize that they need to have revenue streams and sustainability built in from the get-go,” she says.

Citing what she calls psychic equity — the benefits of being invested in and fulfilled by an undertaking — Rottenberg says that organizations in the private sector should consider whether they are motivating their employees beyond bonuses, aligning stakeholders’ values and interests, and measuring impact beyond the next fiscal quarter. In addition, she argues, “the private sector has to bring in multiple stakeholders and listen to constituents. It doesn’t work to just have a command-and-control relationship. You have to be much more partnership-oriented when you’re dealing with other countries.” Rottenberg also believes that social entrepreneurs “can help government deploy its resources more efficiently and effectively and track the impact of its social investments.”

Rottenberg says that Endeavor is on track to meet — and possibly even surpass — its goal of “25 by 2015.” A Lebanese office opened in early 2011; scoping missions are on the ground in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

But will all this activity have enough impact, in the end, to propel a social entrepreneur like Rottenberg from “charming” to “important”? Rottenberg quotes recent remarks made by former World Bank President James Wolfensohn: “Endeavor has played an instrumental role in promoting entrepreneurship as a tool for development. It is a model that should be replicated around the world.”

That is exactly what she hopes to achieve. If social entrepreneurship succeeds on a global scale, it will be due in no small part to the efforts of Rottenberg, her colleagues, and other like-minded people. But in a larger sense, it will represent an affirmation of the conviction underlying those efforts: the conviction that the spirit of entrepreneurialism has always existed in all parts of the world — and that underdeveloped countries have only lacked the institutions and mechanisms needed to unlock its power.

Reprint No. 12106

Author Profile:

  • Paula Margulies is a writer specializing in the Middle East and international affairs.
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  1. Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005): Bestseller that describes the context of globalization in which Endeavor emerged, including an account of Rottenberg’s work.
  2. C.K. Prahalad and Stuart L. Hart, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,” s+b, First Quarter 2002: Seminal article by the late globalization expert and management thinker on business opportunities in the developing world.
  3. Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (Basic Books, 2000): A classic analysis of the cultural and institutional impediments to entrepreneurship in the developing world.
  4. Endeavor’s website: Features case studies, statistics, a blog, and more.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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