The thoughts expressed in this Guest Opinion are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of S&P Global.
As the U.S. recovers from the worst pandemic since 1918, the nation is confronted with a set of major challenges, some long in the making, but all of which have new urgency: reversing decades-long trends toward greater inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity; addressing climate change; eliminating systemic racism; and reinvigorating our democracy in a highly polarized political environment.
Once the United States fully recovers from the COVID pandemic, Americans still will face an extraordinary set of social, economic, and even existential challenges.
Federal financing of R&D through the years has played a critical role in the development and commercialization of a wide range of technologies – including information and communications technology, energy, healthcare, transportation, agriculture – that characterize modern life.
America is changing in many ways, as it always has. Change happens for many reasons – because of constantly evolving technologies, changing demographics, policies of governments at all levels, and enterprising for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurs and companies. In this section, we focus on those entrepreneurial efforts.
As effective as multiple changes across all non-federal sectors of society have been in helping to address the major challenges that confront all of us, each of these sectors also face a different set of barriers or limits.
Despite the barriers that impede the scaling of successful social programs, or that prevent corporations from doing more to address social objectives that are in their long-run financial interest, there are multiple ways of lowering these barriers.
Truly effective and lasting change ultimately requires a change in mindsets. This can be challenging when it comes to matters of race, especially in a polarized environment poisoned by the influence of social media, which reinforces filter bubbles, encouraging people to remain in their information silos, dividing rather than uniting the country.
Entrepreneurial leaders in the non-profit and state and local government sectors are fundamentally similar to entrepreneurs in the private for-profit economy. They all discover and then seek to meet a demand that is not currently being fulfilled by existing organizations. And they all require prudent risk taking and courage.
The individuals and organizations they founded or were elected to lead (in the case of Tulsa’s Mayor) that we feature here, for the most part, are not yet national household names – though they should be. They are each making a unique and potentially scalable contribution toward addressing one or more of the four major challenges the country faces and which we outline in greater detail in our accompanying essay Entrepreneurial Leadership. They also represent just a small fraction of the leaders outside the federal government who are helping to improve this country and whose stories and lessons should inspire us all.
The profiles are grouped by the nature of the challenge each is meeting (though several could fit in more than group, given the intersectionality of the challenges themselves). We provide some context in each group before introducing and describing the entrepreneurial leaders and their organizations. Several common themes emerge from our profiles, which also are shared by successful for-profit entrepreneurs:
First, each of the entrepreneurs we feature found a “pain point” or a need to be fulfilled that was currently unmet, and that frequently, the entrepreneurs discovered or realized this pain point out of their personal experience or frustration.
Second, as in the for-profit world, non-profit entrepreneurs typically start small, are open to experimenting as they go along, scaling what works and quickly dropping what doesn’t. Third, success is a virtuous circle. That is because success establishes credibility for outsiders while building confidence among the entrepreneurs themselves that they can take on bigger challenges, namely scaling their organizations and their work.
Fourth, as in the for-profit world, scaling takes money. Successful non-profit entrepreneurs find that money in both fees for service and in philanthropy. Here, too, there is a virtuous cycle: donors like to see that they are not the sources of funds, they are more likely to provide support if they see others doing, and especially if funds are coming for services provided.
Fifth, scaling must be pursued at a sustainable pace, one that does not sacrifice the quality of the service or the activity, nor the morale of those in the organization.
Finally, leading and even following constructive change requires courage. As is true for for-profit entrepreneurs, it takes courage to launch an organization devoted to change when, at least the beginning, the entrepreneur or perhaps or a few others are the only ones making the effort.
The authors of this report are deeply indebted to a remarkable team of students in the Tuck School at Dartmouth – Jessica Anh, Katherine Britt, Roderick Milligan – and to Julia Hamill, an undergraduate at Dartmouth, who conducted the research for and prepared the first drafts of the case studies summarized here.