Friends,                                                                        10/12/2001

I believe that with your dedication and thoughtful actions, SEEDS has come a long way in the last 9 years of fledgling existence. As you know, SEEDS has been emphasizing long-term, sustainable and equitable development of our society with focus on the poorest in Orissa and India. I feel it is very important to have a strategic (and potentially risky in terms of investment of energy and funds) thrust to some of our activities – specially when we are so few engaged as volunteers and because we are so far away from the people on the street we like to help.  We have executed numerous projects with pretty good average satisfaction and personal dedication.


I think the time has now come for us to “invest” strategically some of our resources in people who are the “social entrepreneurs” and who are on the street pursuing a revolutionary idea of social development. In this regard I have privately conversed with a few of you. Now I would like to publicly propose that we seriously consider the idea of seeking and supporting “fellows” who are truly visionaries-on-the-street. We are long way from establishing policies and selection procedures and fund-raising which come next. (An idea might be to save the interest obtained on collected donations to invest in this purpose or allocate a small percentage of our donation-income.)


In the following let’s look closely into who is a social entrepreneur. An entrepreneur, of any kind, can Envision, Energize and Enable. He or she will set directions, align people, motivate serious action for social development.


The following goes into more specifics and is heavily borrowed from Ashoka organization.


The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck. He or she finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the whole business of fishing.

Identifying and solving large-scale social problems requires a social entrepreneur because only the entrepreneur has the committed vision and inexhaustible determination to persist until they have transformed an entire system. The scholar comes to rest when he expresses an idea. The professional succeeds when she solves a client’s problem. The manager calls it quits when he has enabled his organization to succeed. Social entrepreneurs go beyond the immediate problem to fundamentally change communities, societies, the World.





Successful social entrepreneurs must be creative both as goal-setting visionaries and in the essential follow-up problem solving. They must use their creativity day after day, year after year, to succeed.
Creativity is also a wellspring of the entrepreneur's motivation. Because they own their vision, they are far more dedicated to making the idea the new reality than any employee could ever be.

To assess how innovative an individual is, please probe the following questions:

> Does this individual have a vision of how he or she can meet some human need better than it has been met before? Is it his or her own idea?

> Does he or she have a history of creating other new visions? Is this creativity evident in his or her earlier years? (In the relatively simple involvements of the school years it is often easier to identify who played what role in a group.) Look for a trail of new organizations or other innovations the candidate has created.

> Does the individual have a track record of developing creative solutions to problems? How creative is the problem solving behind this idea? Is this problem solving clearly his or hers?

> Is he or she likely to continue making creative contributions beyond this one idea throughout his or her lifetime?


The entrepreneurial personality, whether applied to business or social concerns, is well understood and extremely distinct. Although there are thousands of creative people who have the ability to lead, to administer, or to "get things done", few of these people will ever change the basic pattern in their field at the national level or beyond. Although these qualities are helpful complements to the entrepreneurial personality type, they do not define it.


Successful social entrepreneurship needs not only an extraordinary champion to develop an idea but a powerful, practical new idea that will spread on its own merits. Therefore, this criterion, unlike the other three, focuses on the candidate's idea, not the candidate.
The first question to ask in applying this criterion is: "Assuming that the entrepreneur behind this idea succeeds in demonstrating it in one place but then disappears, would ordinary people in that field look at that demonstration and perceive it to be so new, practical, feasible, and attractive that they would pick it up and bring it into their work?" In other words, would it spread on its own merits?

Assuming that the answer to this question is yes, a second set of questions will help assess the social impact of the idea:

1.    How many people will benefit?

2.    How much will they benefit?

To do so requires one to resort to instinct and gut feeling, not just rational analysis. The essential question is: "Do you trust this person absolutely?" A particularly helpful test is: "If you were in a dangerous situation, would you relax if this person were with you or would you feel a slight twinge?"  If some one proposes a name, they need to have this thought through -- the world already has enough untrustworthy public leaders..

 Social entrepreneurs introducing major structural changes in society, in effect, have to ask a great many people to change how they do things. If people do not trust the entrepreneur, the likelihood of success is significantly reduced. So free, courteous and professional exchange of ideas must be a quality of an entrepreneur. There are a number of tests that flow from the above understanding of the entrepreneurial temperament and which are key to applying this criterion rigorously:

1.    Does this man or woman truly have a concrete idea of a different future for this field? This idea must not be a vague description of a goal; it must be a concrete engineering plan - both of how this new idea will work and of how to get there.

2.    Is he or she possessed by this idea? Is it obvious that this person is not going to be able to rest until his or her idea has become the new pattern? Is he or she unquestionably willing and eager to jump into this endeavor full-time? Is he or she facing up stoutly to the skepticism of the conventional minded? Has he or she shown such a committed pattern before?

3.    Does he or she have the realism of the entrepreneur? How well does he or she absorb the realities of the environment? Does he or she listen well? Is he or she free of ideological fetters? Is the idea realistic - on all dimensions, ranging from the technical to the political?

4.    Is this person as concerned with the practical engineering questions as with the vision? Does he or she have a good "how-to" map? When you press this person on "how-to" questions down to the second, third, and fourth level, does he or she light up with enthusiasm and engage with you? (This last is an extremely valuable test. The idealist simply will not have thought things through in this way. The true entrepreneur, by contrast, is almost always starved for the opportunity to discuss these sorts of issues with others and will generally truly enjoy an opportunity to do so in any depth.)

5.    Did this person in the earlier stages of his or her life show the determination, ingenuity, thoughtful attention to detail, and realism that characterize the entrepreneur? Has he or she taken surprising, perhaps even apparently risky, initiative before to do things differently or to cause others to do things differently? Has this person been oriented towards delivering results, not just doing a job and not just desiring to get ahead? Most successful entrepreneurs have demonstrated such patterns of behavior since childhood.


Recommended Web resources:,,,,

---Priyadarsan Patra


According to Ashoka, What defines "entrepreneurial quality"?

People with this personality type are possessed by an idea. Almost always this idea has grown out of their entire life history. The interest began germinating when they were young. They then, more or less intuitively, put themselves through a long "apprenticeship" during which they mastered their field in great depth. They must know its history, people, institutions, anthropology, politics, and technology so well that they can see what the next historic step for the field is and how to bring it about. Their personality dictates that they pursue this path.

When they know they have an idea that will change their field, and when they sense they have the personal skills to run with the idea, they have reached the magic turning point in their lives, the moment when the entrepreneur springs into action. They commit their whole being to making that idea the next chapter in the history of their field. They have little interest in anything else. They know intuitively that they are willing to spend the next 10 or 15 years making that historical development take place. Their idea is their mission.

This total absorption is critical to transforming the new idea into a reality, and it is for this reason that Ashoka absolutely insists that candidates commit themselves full-time to their ideas during the launch phase. If the candidate is not willing to do so, then either the candidate has not developed the idea to the point where he or she is confident that it will successfully change the pattern in the field at least nationally, or he or she is not an entrepreneur. Since the two most difficult judgments Ashoka must make are whether or not someone has the leading entrepreneur's temperament and whether he or she is ready to move from the apprenticeship stage to the launch point, it is important that candidates demonstrate both with actions and words that they are ready for launch. This is a very key test for Ashoka.

Because true entrepreneurs cannot rest until their ideas have become the new pattern for their society, they design their ideas with that end constantly in mind. For them something that works locally but not society-wide is a dead-end detour they instinctively reject and avoid.

They are as interested in the practical or "how-to" (strategic and tactical) questions as they are in the vision itself. How will they transform an idea into society's new norm? How will the pieces fit together? How will they deal with the many challenges they will certainly encounter? From early morning to late at night, year in and year out, they constantly listen to their environments, seek out threats or opportunities that might affect their ideas, and iteratively refine their ideas until they are so well thought out that they will succeed at the national level and beyond. Other personality types not driven by this compulsion will commonly not design their ideas to be capable of spreading broadly.

True entrepreneurs are the ultimate realists. They do not seek to make political statements, nor do they want to be burned at the stake. Entrepreneurs want their ideas to work; that is what counts. This means that, even if they are immature in other ways, when it comes to working on their ideas, they absorb the realities around them with great sensitivity and fidelity.

If there is a flaw in their design, they will change the design. They are not ideological about their ideas. And they are certainly not ideological in any broader sense: ideology closes the mind to absorbing reality sensitively.

True entrepreneurs must be both great visionaries and extraordinarily detailed engineers committed to the persistent pursuit of all the practical "how-to" issues that must be resolved for a new idea to fly.

Others often describe entrepreneurs as "risk takers". From the outsider's perspective, the leaps the entrepreneur takes do seem risky. However, the undertaking looks like a reasonable investment to the entrepreneur because he or she has thought through the idea with great attention to how it will work once it is set in motion. He or she has carefully considered every aspect of how the idea will be moved through the series of steps from the point of conception to its establishment as the new pattern. In fact, the entrepreneur is only willing to take steps that he or she believes will lead to success. (As David McClelland pointed out in The Achieving Society, the entrepreneur is an entirely different personality type from the bazaar trader or the gambler.)

The entrepreneur will stick with an idea through thick and thin over the long term. That drive, that extraordinary persistence, is a quality that sets leading entrepreneurs visibly apart from most other people. What others see, moreover, is only a shadow of that quality since its chief field of action is within the entrepreneur's mind, a realm that others rarely understand because they are quickly bored by the degree of detail and thoroughness with which the entrepreneur pursues his or her thinking.

The entrepreneur, once one understands this pattern, is easily distinguished from other personality types. The scholar, the artist, and the poet are satisfied when they see a vision and can express it. They do not have the compulsion to make it a reality. The professional, the manager, and the social worker are satisfied when they have solved the needs of their particular clients or organization. In contrast, the entrepreneur cannot rest until his or her vision has become the new norm society-wide. Everything else follows from this central psychological truth.

The leading social entrepreneur is profoundly different. That is what sets this profession so clearly apart. That is what gives Ashoka its strength and its ultimate promise. That is why we must be so strict in applying this criterion.

Darshan Patra