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The "Social Enterprise" Mindset

The Mental Model of the Social Innovator

Our Program is based in a school of international service, not in a business or public policy school. We take a global perspective on the issues we address, and we address them with a different mindset than more tradition-bound fields use. Here are some of the evolving hallmarks of how we approach things, our “mental model” of what doing social enterprise means. Taken as a whole, you could read these as a statement of our Program’s underlying values. How well do they resonate with yours?

Starting Points

Love your problems more than your solutions

Understand the situation from your potential beneficiary’s point of view

Focus on questions more than answers

Listening over talking


Collaboration over competition

Collaborative endeavors over solo heroics

Avoid silos, innovate by partnering across sectors


You can only help when you are asked

Co-creation over doing for someone

The best answers are not always in your head

Taking Action

Bottom-up over top-down: slower, but more sustainable

Small wins over master plans

Crude, fast prototypes over polished final products

Learn by trying something instead of just thinking about it

Let what’s working drive out what isn’t; focus more on what’s right than wrong

Passion drives impact; impact requires skills

Scale impact more than size


Stories over pitches and bullets

Show me over tell me

Sell your idea by engendering confidence in you

Becoming “more good” motivates better than “less bad”

Integrative Thinking

Moral imagination overcomes integrity trade-offs

Combine opposite ideas into something new rather than trading-off between them

You can never change just one thing; systems thinking exposes unintended consequences


Use, don’t idealize, market forces

Let market failures provide clues about new opportunities

Competition drives forward movement best when it operates in a context of shared goals and outcomes developed by all relevant stakeholders

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group of diverse students in the Social Enterprise program are all smiles posing in a classroom

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