Tag Archives: Ashoka

What’s the Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy?

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 12.48.00 PMWhen you search for empathy on Google, you get almost 10,000,000 results. When you search for sympathy on Google, you get almost 25,000,000 results. I bet if we could look at historical search results in Google, I bet that we’d see a big trend where the number of search results for empathy has been increasing. The closest thing we can do to this is a search of all the books that contain the word empathy (at least the ones that have been digitized by Google). How? Using Google’s Ngram Viewer.

The chart above shows the mentions of empathy and sympathy starting in 1800 and ending in 2008. As we can see, empathy was hardly mentioned at all when compared to sympathy until the 1920s. That makes me wonder if there might have been some writings about empathy around the time of the Great Depression. What’s noteworthy though, is the steady increase in mentions of empathy. Granted, it’s still in only a fraction (0.0005%) of books, but it’s still progress.

Sympathy, on the other hand, we can see has steadily declined since the early 1900s. However, there’s been a small blip in sympathy since the mid-2000s. I would guess that this may have to do with the title question of this post: the difference between sympathy and empathy.

There’ve probably been several books written about the differences between empathy and sympathy in the last 5 or 10 years. So, do you know the difference between the two? I have to admit, even as an undergraduate in psychology, I’d often find myself googling the difference between the two terms. About a month ago, I came across a great video from the RSA that quickly explains the difference between empathy and sympathy. Of course, there’s a slight bias towards empathy in the video, but I think you’ll agree — empathetic is far better than sympathetic.

In case you’re inspired to be a champion of empathy or want some more information about programs that are helping to increase the level of empathy, I’d suggest checking out Ashoka: Empathy.

And if you want a bit more information about how empathy has shaped our society and continues to shape it, then I highly recommend checking out the RSA Animate video of Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The Empathic Civilization:

The Cross-Section of Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities: Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities, Part 4

In the first post in this series, we looked at the definition of social entrepreneurship. In the second post in this series, we looked at the definition of externalities. In the third post, we looked at some solutions to externalities. In today’s post, the last in this series, we’ll look at the cross-section of social entrepreneurship and externalities and wrap up the paper.

The Cross-Section of Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities

Let’s revisit our definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities. Social entrepreneurship is the application of innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems in the form of massive wide-scale change, usually to the system. Externalities are a cost/benefit experienced by someone who is not a party to the transaction. Just by looking at those two definitions, my first inclination is that externalities are absolutely essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship. Given that many of society’s most pressing social problems – in some people’s minds – can be traced back to a transaction that resulted in the negative externality, it’s hard to imagine how externalities wouldn’t be essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship. With that being said, let’s look at some examples where these two concepts meet.

The current Director of the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Pamela Hartigan, recently wrote a book chapter entitled, “Creating Blueprints for Business in the 21st Century: Social Entrepreneurship Shows the Way.” In it, she talks about the specific role of social entrepreneurs in the economic ecosystem. “Economic literature often pays much less attention to the role of positive externalities than it does to negative externalities. In so doing, it neglects the primary drivers of social entrepreneurial action.”[1] Hartigan goes on to say that neglected positive externalities should be a main focus of social entrepreneurship. A really good example of this is Wikipedia, which was created by Jimmy Wales (who is also an Ashoka Fellow). Based on that citation alone, one would have to think that externalities are part of the understanding of social entrepreneurship, but let’s see if there are others.

A paper written by a professor at INSEAD, which is consistently one of the top business schools in the world, called A Positive Theory of Social Entrepreneurship offers some more insights into neglected positive externalities. In fact, the author’s first proposition states that, “addressing problems involving neglected positive externalities is the distinctive domain of action of social entrepreneurship.”[2] It looks like Santos and Hartigan share similar viewpoints in that neglected positive externalities are a key to social entrepreneurship. These two examples make it pretty clear that neglected positive externalities feature in the field of social entrepreneurship. Let’s move onto different examples to see if any other key points arise.

If you recall, one of the solutions to externalities had to do with the internalization of the externalities. There’s a book chapter entitled, “The NYC Watershed agreement: sustainable development and social entrepreneurship,” written by Joan Hoffman. In it, she addresses some of the challenges that are faced by those in watershed collaborations (combination of economic and environmental goals). “The economic concept of externalities, or impacts of market transactions on third parties, can be extended to describe the need for social entrepreneurs . . . The new organizations fostered by social entrepreneurs are designed to internalize consideration of these externalities.”[3] It turns out that social entrepreneurs, if not by intention at least by accident, are directly addressing problems of externalities through some of the solutions that have been proposed by economists and academics.

In answering our question about whether externalities are essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship, we have inadvertently answered the second question: are economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship? In this last reference, we saw that not only was there a reference to an economic theory of externalities, but there was a reference to a solution of externalities (as offered by economic theory). As a result, I think it is safe to say, “yes” to both questions.

Closing Thoughts

In this paper, we have explored definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities. We have explored some of the muddiness around both of these definitions. We have taken a closer look at some of the different kinds of externalities (positive, negative, positional, etc.). We have looked at some of the proposed economic solutions to externalities. Then, we looked at the cross-section of externalities and social entrepreneurship. We dove deeper into the intersection of these two concepts to find that at the heart of social entrepreneurship is an inclination to solve some of the externalities facing the planet. Lastly, we were able to answer, “yes” to the two main questions of this paper: “Are externalities essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship?” and “Are the economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship?”

In closing, I wanted to revisit one of the ideas put forth by Barnett and Yandle in their paper, The End of the Externality Revolution.[4] Specifically, I want to address their idea that there aren’t any externalities – only inefficiencies. As someone who has had very little training in economics, but a great deal of training in some of the other social sciences, I can appreciate this reframing of externalities. In fact, I think it is appropriate to repackage our understanding of externalities as part of the “main” function of the transaction. In calling them inefficiencies, I don’t think that Barnett and Yandle are doing this. I think both names – externalities and inefficiencies – are not entirely representative of the true state of affairs. In doing research for this paper, I came across a quote that I think captures the essence of what I’m trying to say. It was written in the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008,[5] [emphasis mine]:

The good news is that I think the economic system we will build next will be one in which environmental and social costs will no longer be externalities; costs that get pushed off the balance sheet. The cost of doing business to the planet . . . will now be factored in.


[1] Lopez-Claros, A. (2010). The innovation for development report 2010-2011: Innovation as a driver of productivity and economic growth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

[2] Santos, F. M. (2009). A positive theory of social entrepreneurship. Social Innovation Centre: Working Papers, 1-51.

[3] Perrini, F. (2006). The new social entrepreneurship: What awaits social entrepreneurial ventures? Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

[4] Barnett, A. H., & Yandle, B. (2009). The end of the externality revolution. Social Philosophy and Policy, 26(2), 130-150.

[5] Jones, K. (2009). When more mission equals more money: The more a business focuses on its social mission, the more revenue it will generate. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Defining Social Entrepreneurship: Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities, Part 1

I enjoyed sharing the work that I’d done several years ago curating those quotes from various religious scriptures into a number of posts. As a result, it got me thinking of some of the other papers I’ve wrote and whether they’d be appropriate to share here. Since I just finished an MBA, I’ve gone through quite a number of case studies. Since professors tend to reuse those cases, it seems inappropriate to share the papers I wrote for those cases (as some students might try to pass it off as their own work). With that being said, yesterday’s post about fines vs. fees reminded me of a paper I wrote about a year ago for a class in social entrepreneurship. This paper wasn’t for a case, so I thought I’d share it in a number of installments. In today’s post, I’ll share the executive summary and the first section: defining social entrepreneurship.

Executive Summary

This aim of this paper is to answer two main questions: (1) are externalities essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship? (2) are the economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship? To answer these questions, the definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities are explored, along with the different categories of externalities. There is also a short examination of the different solutions to externalities. Following this, an analysis of the intersection of the two concepts (social entrepreneurship and externalities) is conducted, the results of which return answers of “yes” to both of the main questions of this paper.

Defining Social Entrepreneurship

Before moving into a discussion about social entrepreneurship and externalities, it is important to define these terms. As one delves further into the literature – both academic and popular – it quickly becomes clear that there are myriad understandings that cloud the space around these terms[1] and thusly make the task of definition that much more important. To begin, I will define social entrepreneurship, but before that, it might be more appropriate to start with a definition of entrepreneurship.

Most definitions of social entrepreneurship begin with an attempt to define entrepreneurship and logically so, as ‘social’ acts as a modifying word to entrepreneurship. One definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur that I particularly like, “A person is an entrepreneur from t1 to t2 if and only if that person attempts, from t1 to t2, to make business profits by innovation in the face of risk.”[2] Subsequently, the definition of entrepreneurship follows as, “The process of attempting from t1 to t2, to make business profits by innovation in the face of risk.”[3] While there is disagreement among some about how to define entrepreneurship, this basic understanding will suffice for the purposes of this paper.

Now that we have defined entrepreneurship, ‘business profits by innovation in the face of risk,’ we can move on to define social entrepreneurship. Similar to entrepreneurship (and maybe understandably so), social entrepreneurship lacks a consensual definition among those who study it. The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford defines social entrepreneurship as, “[being] about innovative, market-oriented approaches underpinned by a passion for social equity and environmental sustainability.”[4] Others believe that social entrepreneurship is, “ a process that catalyzes social change and/or addresses important social needs in a way that is not dominated by direct financial benefits for the entrepreneurs.”[5] While those definitions are similar, one could identify differences. The first definition includes an approach and the second definition includes a process. Part of the issue surrounding the definition of social entrepreneurship is that, “it means different things to different people.”[6] I may be a bit biased as I’m currently interning with Ashoka, but I think the person [Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka] who ‘created’ the term[7] should have a great deal of say in the definition of said term. As such, Ashoka defines social entrepreneurship in following way:[8]

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

One of the important distinctions regarding Ashoka’s definition of social entrepreneurship is that the idea precedes the doing. That is, the social entrepreneur plans to address the problem (or social ill) before s/he begins the venture. This will be important later on when we talk about externalities. Another important distinction here is the specification of ‘changing the system.’ This is key because one of the more recent academic articles published on the topic of social entrepreneurship isolates four main factors of the definitions of social entrepreneurship, none of which are ‘changing the system’. They include: characteristics of individual social entrepreneurs, their sphere of operation, the processes and resources used by social entrepreneurs, and the mission of the social entrepreneur.[9] Let’s use the definition of social entrepreneurship provided by Ashoka and move on to define the next piece: externalities.

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Note: Check back tomorrow for the next section: defining externalities. Below, you’ll find a list of footnotes from this first section of the paper.


[1] For social entrepreneurship, see: Tan, W., Williams, J., & Tan, T. (2005). Defining the ‘social’ in ‘social entrepreneurship’: Altruism and entrepreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 353-365. For externalities, see: Barnett, A. H., & Yandle, B. (2009). The end of the externality revolution. Social Philosophy and Policy, 26(2), 130-150.

[2] Tan, W., Williams, J., & Tan, T. (2005). Defining the ‘social’ in ‘social entrepreneurship’: Altruism and entrepreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 353-365.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Mair, J., & Marti, I. (2004). Social entrepreneurship: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1), 36-44.

[6] Dees, J. G. (1998). The meaning of ‘social entrepreneurship.’ Stanford University: Center for Social Innovation. See: http://www.caseatduke.org/documents/dees_sedef.pdf

[9] Dacin, M. T., & Dacin, P. A. (2011). Social entrepreneurship: A critique and future directions. Organization Science, 22(5), 1203-1213.

 

What Do You Stand For?

In skimming through this week’s The Economist, I noticed a rather intriguing letter. I’ve included it below:

Go west!

SIR – I am a water-treatment operator in Fort McMurray, in the heart of Alberta’s oil-sands country, and I read your piece about our boom town (“The sands of grime”, November 17th). There are labour shortages here and we really do need 100,000 skilled tradesmen, as you said. But I’m worried that articles like yours might frighten off workers by writing about, for instance, our “ultra-low temperatures”.

Of course it’s cold here. It’s Canada. Last night was -27 Celsius (-17 Fahrenheit) and I went out without my jacket zipped up; you get used to the cold. And it is expensive to buy or rent property, which is why many people share apartments. In order to attract more workers the site camps are improving their facilities and financial packages.

My grandfather owned an iron foundry in Britain’s West Midlands. I was always taught that dirty hands make clean money. If you tell someone here that you are out of work you will get no sympathy as so much employment is available. Over the past 20 months I have earned $300,000 and spent a few weeks on vacation in Miami, a few more in Virginia and a few more in Toronto. It certainly beats overturning cars and waiting for some Russian or Arab billionaire to buy my local football club while collecting benefits.

The oil-sands boom is happening, like it or not, so why not make some money during this gold rush. Come on out and get your hands dirty.

Simon Moss
Fort McMurray, Canada

The letter-writer makes some good points, but as I considered the closing thoughts, I struggled with imagining myself as someone working in the oil-sands of Canada. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that oil is an important part of life (and the economy) as it stands today, but I just don’t know if I could bring myself to work for a cause that I didn’t whole-heartedly support. When I started my MBA back in the fall of 2011, one of my first thoughts was that I would graduate and work for a firm for which the mission was wholly congruent with mine. This was a strong contributing factor that led to me interning with Ashoka this past summer.

While providing energy/goods is a noble mission, I don’t know if I want to be directly part of it in this way. That is, I don’t know if I would want to use my skills in this way. However, I wouldn’t absolutely rule out working for a firm/organization that is in this industry. My way of reconciling something like this would be working for the firm’s department/area responsible for corporate social responsibility.

Adding General Managers to the Organization Could Improve Ethical Decision-Making

I’ve mentioned that I’m working at for the summer. As I don’t currently live in , I take the to get to work. As I don’t yet have an iPhone or an iPad (with which to read something on), I’ve kept my subscription to . As I was reading , I got to an article from called, “

At first, I was a bit skeptical, but as I read on, it may me think of the post I recently wrote about . Here’s an excerpt from the Schumpeter [emphasis added]:

But is it wise to be so obsessed with speed? High-speed trading can lead to market meltdowns, as almost happened on May 6th 2010, unless automatic breaks are installed. And is taking one’s time so bad? Regulators are always warning people not to buy things in the heat of the moment. Procrastinators have a built-in cooling-off period. Businesses are forever saying that they need more creativity. Dithering can help. Ernest Hemingway told a fan who asked him how to write a novel that the first thing to do was to clean the fridge. Steven Johnson, a writer on innovation, argues that some of the best new products are “slow hunches”. Nestlé’s idea of selling coffee in small pods went nowhere for three decades; now it is worth billions.

These thoughts have been inspired by two (slowly savoured) works of management theory: an obscure article in the Academy of Management Journal by Brian Gunia of Johns Hopkins University; and a popular new book, “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay”, by Frank Partnoy of University of San Diego. Mr Gunia and his three co-authors demonstrated, in a series of experiments, that slowing down makes us more ethical. When confronted with a clear choice between right and wrong, people are five times more likely to do the right thing if they have time to think about it than if they are forced to make a snap decision. Organisations with a “fast pulse” (such as banks) are more likely to suffer from ethical problems than those that move more slowly. (The current LIBOR scandal engulfing Barclays in Britain supports this idea.) The authors suggest that companies should make greater use of “cooling-off periods” or introduce several levels of approval for important decisions.

I fine this rather on-point with what I was saying in the . By having more layers of approval (by way of the general managers), there would, undoubtedly, be more time factored into the process. As a result, this *may* result in less of the instances of poor decision-making that what we’ve seen recently with companies like Barclay’s and JP Morgan.

Distinguishing the Action from the Actor

I had a moment of “world’s colliding” this afternoon when I sat down to catch up on some reading I started quite a while ago. The passage is worth repeating, so I thought I’d include it and then get back to the “world’s colliding” part.

The important point about the principle of compassion, as a basis for the exercise of justice, is that it is directed not toward actions, but toward the actor. Compassion demands that we condemn wrong actions and oppose them with all means necessary, while at the same time forgiving and maintaining an attitude of kindness toward the perpetrators of those actions. Just as, in theistic terms, God forbids sin while still loving the sinner, so we too should forcefully oppose wrong while maintaining concern for the wrongdoer. It is right to do this because, again, all human beings are capable of change. I think we all know this is from our own experience. After all, it is not uncommon for those who lead reckless lives when young to become responsible and caring as they gain in maturity and experience. In history, too, there are many examples of individuals whose early lives were morally reprehensible, but who later brought great benefit to others. We might think of Emperor Ashoka, for example, or Saint Paul, or numerous others. (p. 64-5)

I’ve been reading this (off and on) since at least April and there have been some really good passages, which is probably to the surprise of no one. I found this passage particularly important because of how the Dalai Lama uses religion to help build the bridge for his audience from what he’s talking about to their way of understanding the world.

Now, to the part about “world’s colliding.” I’ve mentioned before that I’m working at this summer, but before beginning with this organization, I had no idea who/what Ashoka [the person] was. Ironically, this summer I’m taking an elective in social entrepreneurship and one of our required texts is ‘s . The ironic part is that this book is often used to help explain what it is that Ashoka (the organization) does. [Brief aside: Although, with the recent publication of , many turn to it (Rippling) as it has an updated understanding of the mission of Ashoka (the organization).]

The point about Bornstein’s book is that he sits down with Ashoka’s founder (Bill Drayton) and speaks with him about how he came to found the organization. One of the questions posed/answered is how/why Drayton came to call the organization Ashoka. So of course, the reader then learns a bit about who Ashoka (the Emperor) is and a bit about Bill Drayton’s thinking. So while I didn’t know who Ashoka (the Emperor) was when I started reading the Dalai Lama’s book (or when I started working for Ashoka the organization), I have come across Ashoka (the Emperor) in a number of places. One of the other places comes from in world history: Week #6 was about .