Two Takes on Unfinished Social Business

Jonathan C. Lewis is a veteran social entrepreneur, academic, advocate, champion of social justice and, as of June, the author of a collection of essays - The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur.  At PeakChange, we were happy to provide peer reviewed feedback on drafts and excited to receive advanced copies of the final version of the book. And, rather than just co-author a blog about Jonathan’s work, we decided to give you two takes in separate reviews of his book.

All sales proceeds from the book go to support social justice causes. Be on the look out for the upcoming The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur book tour in 2018, which we hope will use our preferred title: Jonathan Eats His Way Through All the Best U.S. Hotdog Spots Talking Social Change.

Jim’s Social Venture Take

I’ve been a social venture investor and entrepreneur since escaping from Internet technology development in 2006. Back then, my biggest concern was that the AOL Instant Messenger popup would load fast enough so people could enjoy “Rate a Buddy”.

Seeking some purpose in my work, I left AOL to co-found Laborfair, an early-stage social venture. While struggling to get the business off the ground, I was fortunate to stumble across a most curious and inspiring guy, Jonathan Lewis. While Laborfair failed, my friendship with Jonathan has endured. Reading through The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur, I was reminded of so many of our past conversations and how they’ve played such a large part in guiding my continued passion for social justice. It’s great to know that, through these 21 essays, legions of our fellow social venture soldiers can now relish in his advice and counsel (even if they don’t have the opportunity to share a hotdog).

While I’ve always sought Jonathan’s inspiration and grounding, I’ve particularly relied on his no bullshit assessment of our social venture efforts. Thus, I was particularly impressed with his courage and directness in Misgivings, the essay where he questions the core thesis and social value of the popular TOMS Shoes model. I too have never been comfortable with the “buy one, give one” type business/philanthropy hybrid. As a social venture investor, I’m highly sensitive to the market distorting effects of “free.” More importantly, the social justice challenges we collectively face require greater understanding, empathy, and intent than putting on a pair of shoes in the morning. New recruits to our social change mission -- young students, encore-career professionals, and seasoned philanthropists -- will benefit greatly from Jonathan’s insight and analysis in what models work and which are simply “impact washing.”

Over the last two years, my interests have shifted strongly to better understand the roots of our economic and political norms and the power of public policy as a social change agent. Jonathan’s essay Pluralism is a rare articulation in our community of how these forces really do matter. This may seem odd for a space which benefits so greatly from public/private partnerships and directly from government financial support. For example, USAID and OPIC are both strong supporters of MCE Social Capital which enables the organization to finance small businesses, households, and entrepreneurial women in over three dozen countries around the world. While these efforts are encouraging, sadly, most of us have been raised in a post-Reagan world, where government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. This view is a tragically limited, a far cry from Johnson’s unconditional war on poverty or Kennedy’s calling us to go to the moon. In this vein, Jonathan forces us to acknowledge the power of good government and calls on our young social venture recruits to consider public service. Social venture entrepreneurship may be sexy, but as a social justice government servant you could likely have far greater positive impact in our world.

While Jonathan helps empower and celebrate our collective action towards social justice, The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur is not a source for understanding how our world collectively got so screwed up. Happily, this sort of questioning is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the wake of the Trump presidential victory. We ask ourselves: If social justice is so obvious and urgent to us, why do we feel we’re rowing into headwinds? What drives the likes of Koch brothers who seem to oppose our efforts? A great compliment to The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur could thus include The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt provides a solid rationale for what inhibits many of our fellow citizens from joining with us in our march towards social justice and sustainability.

With Jonathan’s essays refreshing our passions, we can better expand our circle of change makers into our joyful mission of positive change.

Disclosure: Jim is a General Partner of the DevEquity fund, a guarantor and board member of MCE Social Capital, a co-investor in Copia Global, a financial supporter of Cafe Impact, and a frequent delegate of Opportunity Collaboration, all are ventures in which Jonathan Lewis has been instrumental.

Emily’s Millennial Take

I’ve worked for social enterprises and entrepreneurs my whole life - in education, consulting, real estate, finance, film, and human rights. However, only recently in my work at PeakChange have I had the clarity and confidence to call myself a social entrepreneur. Although I’ve only known him for a few years, I credit Jonathan Lewis’ tough love, fierce support, and willingness to challenge my beliefs, among the reasons I’m so willing to fight for financial inclusion and social justice by building the impact investing community.

The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur is the book that I wish had existed at the start of my journey, and I’m grateful it exists at this point of my career in the social sector. There are tons of books on how to do the mechanics of social entrepreneurship, but few that get to the heart and soul of what it means and takes to live a life dedicated to social justice, fighting the good fight. Jonathan articulates specific KPIs for social entrepreneurs to consider adopting as barometers for their humanity through his essays on Passion, Prepared, Words, Bruised, and Misgivings. On a personal note, because social entrepreneurship is personal, The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur’s essay on Starting showed me how to tell my insecurities to shut up and calm down; and Listenership taught me how to embrace my innate super power as strength. In Pluralism, I found new language to explain why policy matters so much to me and new insights about how to show up in authentic ways to support the causes and communities I care so deeply about. I’m sure I will continue to unpack the lessons, advice, and musings in this book for years to come.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to peer review Jonathan’s book as a draft and provide hard feedback and critique for the master.  I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur, and I admire Jonathan’s bravery, honesty, and wit in sharing both his personal story and his moral imperative for social justice. I found myself writing down all the books, articles, and changemakers included in different essays to follow the social justice literary trail. A reference list as an appendix and an index would have been helpful. While there is a Community Conversation Guide to accompany the book, I hope in the future that Jonathan compiles a reading guide to help social entrepreneurs at all stages in their journeys to root themselves in the history of social activism and in the economic and social context of our society.

In The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur, Jonathan has provided social entrepreneurs with a rallying cry and clarity of purpose. I’m all in and look forward to getting to know all the other unfinished social change agents.