Becoming a Social Entrepreneur: Starting Out, Scaling Up and Staying True, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Becoming a Social Entrepreneur

Starting Out, Scaling Up and Staying True, 1st Edition

By Michael Gordon


344 pages

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Paperback: 9780367197735
pub: 2019-12-20
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What’s it like to be a social entrepreneur — not a textbook social entrepreneur but one on the ground? This book explains how. Michael Gordon, leading Social Entrepreneurship expert from the University of Michigan, spoke with more than one hundred social entrepreneurs—from six continents, young and old, just starting out to several decades in, addressing seemingly every societal problem of the day.

This book uses their words and experiences to provide a kaleidoscopic description of what it means to become a social entrepreneur. It ranges from the personal and emotional challenges they often face to the grand impact many hope to produce. It touches on the sublime but focuses on the everyday, highlighting the mistakes that have been made, the lessons learned and, especially, what advice they would give to those wanting to start a social venture.

This book presents the truth, not the varnish, and is ideal for use in the classroom with students of social enterprise, and for all new and experienced social entrepreneurs seeking real-life examples of how to overcome challenges.


"Michael Gordon’s research is informed by his many years of deep engagement with Ashoka’s extended team of teams. This book provides broad, and nuanced, guidance to social entrepreneurs and deepens our knowledge of how they envision, enable and ensure new patterns of change. And more importantly, how their deepest impact is to help countless others to be changemakers."

Diana Wells, President Emerita, Leadership Team Member, Ashoka.

"The title says it all: Becoming a Social Entrepreneur: Starting Out, Scaling Up, Staying True is the manual I wish I had at the start of my social venture journey. Over the years, I came to realize that the best advice came from my peers - fellow entrepreneurs who generously shared their wisdom, passion, frustration and success stories. Michael has done an amazing job of capturing the firsthand experience of a wide variety of changemakers, synthesizing lessons learned and translating their individual experiences into practical points of reference. This book is a must-read for every social entrepreneur, ecosystem partners who support their amazing work, and anyone who is curious about what makes a social entrepreneur ‘tick.'"

Cynthia Koenig, Founder and CEO, Wello.

"An exhaustive, intimate survey of social entrepreneurs with varied, textured experience by one of the keenest observers of the field. A great read for anyone in the space and a must read for anyone aspiring to enter."

Fred de Sam Lazaro, Agents for Change correspondent, PBS NewsHour, Director, Under-Told Stories Project.

"This book is a tour de force! It's an amazing resource for people who aspire to make the world a better place. Michael Gordon has succeeded in bringing together insights and wisdom from more than a hundred of the most inspiring individuals - social entrepreneurs who have overcome adversity and hardship to dedicate themselves to improving the common good."

Scott Sherman, Senior Director, Kravis Lab for Social Impact, Claremont McKenna College, Founder, Transformative Action Institute.

"A must-read book for aspiring and practicing social entrepreneurs. And an important read for everyone else. Prof. Michael Gordon deftly blends history, journalism, management and computer science, even rap music counseling to help readers better understand the past, present and future for social entrepreneurship. Demystifying first-hand accounts of really inconvenient truths to unparalleled positive social change accomplishments. Given our new change-defined era of increasing inequality, social fragmentation and global catastrophic risks, there’s plenty of rich data and insights here to help us all see how everyone can and must be contributors to a better world through social entrepreneurship."

Bob Spoer, Chief Entrepreneur for People/Search, Ashoka.

"Michael's book stands out due to its breadth. Based on interviews from more than 100 practitioners, each of whom addresses unique societal problems across the globe, it may well be the most comprehensive study on social entrepreneurship to date. Though no two experiences are alike, together their perspectives let us know what it is actually like to be a social entrepreneur - both in the challenges they face, and, most importantly, how they rise above them."

Kyle Westaway, Managing Partner at Westaway Law, Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, author of Profit & Purpose.

"Michael, my friend and ally, and long-term OC Delegate, has penned this volume in the same way any successful social entrepreneur approaches their work: by practicing deep listening, by understanding the complexity and nuance of the issues at hand, and by providing true, concrete, incontrovertible value. As a result, Becoming a Social Entrepreneur: Starting Out, Scaling Up, Staying True stands alone in an ever-expanding milieu of books on the field of social entrepreneurship, beckoning forth future change-agents with clear, pragmatic and collective wisdom."

Topher Wilkins, CEO, Opportunity Collaboration, Founder,

"What do you need to know to be a social entrepreneur? Michael Gordon spent five years interviewing dozens of social entrepreneurs around the world to gain their insights and shape them into a broad and comprehensive how-to guide. It is both systematic and lively, full of rich examples that provides a roadmap for social entrepreneurs at any point in their journey."

Jerry Davis, Associate Dean for Business+Impact, Michigan Ross School of Business.

"Carefully researched and packed with examples from over 100 social entrepreneurs, Becoming a Social Entrepreneur: Starting Out, Scaling Up, Staying True conveys what it takes to succeed as a social entrepreneur, creates a pathway for future research, and provides an engaging account for anyone curious about how to create a better world through enterprise."

Stuart L. Hart, University of Vermont, author of Capitalism at the Crossroads.

"An essential handbook for aspiring social entrepreneurs and those who seek to partner with and support social enterprises. Filled with pragmatic advice and lessons learned from over 100 in-depth interviews with social change leaders. A must read!"

Ron Cordes and Marty Cordes, Co-Founders, Cordes Foundation.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Before You

1. Lessons to learn

2. Are you a social entrepreneur?

Part 2: You

3. Before they were social entrepreneurs

4. Ideas

5. Necessity

6. Join

7. Personal challenges

8. The sanities of pro-social behavior

9. Committing

10. Gaining skills

Part 3: Your Team

11. Go team, go

12. Co-founder

13. Team formation

14. Hiring

15. Compensation

16. Volunteers

17. Training

18. Culture

19. Mentors

20. Networks

21. Board

Part 4: Your Business Model

22. Two businesses

23. Know your customers

24. Value proposition

25. The economics of your business

26. Value chain

27. Revising your model

Part 5: Running Your Business

28. Small ain’t easy29. Selling your stuff

30. Operations

31. Managing

32. Legitimacy

33. Legal

34. Expenses

35. Fundraising

36. Investors

37. Fundraising tips

38. Fundraising trajectories

39. Funders’ perspectives

40. Seller, beware

Part 6: More Than You: Impact

41. Scale

42. Measure

43. Poets versus Quants

Part 7: Beyond You

44. This moment

45. Beyond scale

46. Our moment

Appendix 1: Methodology

Appendix 2: The entrepreneurs and the organizations

About the Author

Michael Gordon in the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He is the faculty director of the Center for Social Impact, the seat of social entrepreneurship at the Ross School with connections throughout the University of Michigan.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Business Ethics
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Entrepreneurship
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development