Social Entrepreneurship

Hello from Winston-Salem,

I’m Len Neighbors, and I will be your primary instructor for the Social Entrepreneurship sessions during the Ben Franklin program at Wake Forest this summer.  While I teach communication and debate at Wake Forest, I come from a private business background.  I’ve owned several businesses over the years, and still own and run several small enterprises, so I am excited to share with you what I have learned over the years.

One of the most important debates going on in the United States and Europe is about the limits of capitalism.  In the US, for example, our public arguments about taxes, health care, social welfare, the environment and education often revolve around each side’s basic faith in the viability of capitalism as an organizing system for a modern society.  Many believe capitalism fails to address some fundamental problems like social inequality and environmental stewardship, and might even be detrimental to our cultural goals in those areas.  The other side believes that the best way to address those problems is to leave the market alone to create ingenious solutions, and that government interference can only create inefficiencies that worsen problems.

As a business person, I view myself as a pragmatist.  Capitalism is very good at some things, and very poor at others.  But one area of unparalleled success for capitalism, at least in the United States, has been in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit that compels private citizens, companies, and nonprofits to find innovative ways to address a variety of problems, from the invention of a specific product to meet a real (or created) need to public/private partnerships to address drug abuse, poverty, or low math scores.

What I would like to do in our sessions is take the time to examine the tools, values, and methods that entrepreneurs use to meet these needs, and discover ways to adapt those tools to solve social problems that are of concern to our Fellows.  My hope is that you will leave the Ben Franklin program with a fresh approach to the society around you, one that combines the virtues of the entrepreneurial spirit with your native drive to leave the world better than you found it.

I’d like you to consider a couple questions before you arrive so that we all have a basis for discussion.

1.  What is entrepreneurship?  What are some of the characteristics of an entrepreneur?  What are some of the methods entrepreneurs use to achieve their goals?

2.  Can you find an example in your own country of an entrepreneurial approach to a social problem?  What was it, and did it work?  Why did it succeed or fail?

I am looking forward to meeting all of you.  I believe this summer will be a transformative experience for the Fellow, Mentors, and Faculty, and am please to be a part of it.


Len Neighbors