The Social Entrepreneur’s Book List:
Introduced, Inspired, and Started in the World of Change-Making (2021)
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What’s better than a new book, right?
Maybe a new book that also challenges you to take a more critical look at the environmental and social problems around you and inspires you to change the world?
Better yet, maybe it’s a new book that gives you both the tools and motivation to launch that social venture tucked away in your brain that will radically change the quality of life for those in your community.
We’ve curated a list of books covering triple bottom line business, impact investing, and social innovation, all highlighting progress achieved through innovative business and nonprofit models. We hope this list inspires you to scale your social enterprise or empower you to take the next step in making the positive impact and social change you were meant to.
Here’s our list of inspiration, understanding, and motivation to get started in the world of change-making.
The Best Books on Social Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprise, & Innovation — (2020)
Here’s a #ReadEnsemble list of our favorite books for those curious in, or involved with, social entrepreneurship, social innovation, and societal problem solving of all kinds.
Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business
By Russ Stoddard
Russ is wildly kind, wise, and an active leader in the community of better business. His book, Rise Up, provides both the tactical and principled introduction to purpose-driven business.
You’ll be walked through the basic definitions of what exactly a social enterprise is, how to identify the right corporate structure for your business, and even a few insights on securing funding for your impact-driven venture.
With a collection of case studies from the community Russ has been a part of for 25+ years, and both a comprehensive but accessible approach, Rise Up is an essential “101” into the world of socially conscious business.
Green Swans: The Coming Boom In Regenerative Capitalism
By: John Elkington
In this book, Green Swans author John Elkington challenges business leaders to look beyond just responsibility and resilience in the context of building a ‘sustainable business’ and focus instead on regeneration.
A nod to author Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans, which describes difficult to predict events that result in tragic consequences, Elkington’s Green Swans are proposed “solutions that take us exponentially toward breakthrough.”
John’s book is both an inspiring and challenging call to arms for disrupting traditional stakeholder capitalism and replacing it with a new economic and business model in hopes to attack issues of inequality and climate devastation.
At Better World Books, they “believe profit is not the only way to measure business success.” Perhaps the most ‘socially responsible’ online bookstore, Better World Books donates a book to someone in need everytime you purchase one.
Founded in 2002, Better World Books is a Certified B Corporation, they offer to offset the carbon emissions from the shipping and handling of your book, they’ve donated well over $28,000,000 to fund literacy and libraries and have reused or recycled over 300 million books.
Choose a ‘better’ online book retailer, and learn more about Better World Books’ impact
Building a Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs
By: Muhammad Yunus
Muhammad Yunus is described as the “visionary” behind microcredit, work he pioneered with Grameen Bank, which provides small loans to impoverished borrowers. It’s this work that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
And it’s all this experience, which led Yunus to this book where he introduces (with his own definition) the social business model. Yunus’ definition of a ‘social business’ is completely unique to him, which, by itself, makes this an interesting read.
Yunus’ experience and accolades in building businesses that serve and support the poor make him a clear authority on business for good and a perspective well-worth listening to in this space of impact-driven business.
This book, Building a Social Business, is another comprehensive introduction to this concept of better business and a recommended read for anyone learning or aligning with the business approach that is built to serve, not profit, from the poor.
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
By: David Bornstein
A book that Nelson Mandela calls “wonderfully hopeful and enlightening,” How to Change the World by David Bornstein, was originally published in 2003 and has now become one of the most well-known introductions to social entrepreneurship.
Bornstein’s book serves as inspiration and education for the aspiring changemakers around the world. He speaks to the trends taking hold in the world, where younger generations desire work with an impact. He provides case studies and impressive examples of entrepreneurs who, at the time the book was written, had already taken on wildly innovative impact projects.
And finally, Bornstein reveals what qualities and characteristics the most successful social entrepreneurs share so that the aspiring may model and embody those very same qualities themselves.
How to Change the World is an excellent and detail-heavy-jumping-off point for anyone asking themselves, “What can I do to help?”
Start Something That Matters
By: Blake Mycoskie
A bolt of inspiration, Start Something That Matters is a book written by the Founder of TOMS Shoes, Blake Mycoskie.
The book delves into an autobiography with the founding story of TOMS, covers additional impact-driven business case studies, and then shares Blake’s principles for “starting something that matters” based on his own experiences and the experiences of other social entrepreneurs of his time.
Start Something That Matters is a wonderful look into the simplicity and resourcefulness with which TOMS began—with a mailing address attached to a neighborhood coffee shop, teams of interns working enthusiastically and tirelessly, and the ‘One for One’ giveback model now popularized in the arena of purpose-driven business.
If you want an inside look at a company (and the entrepreneur) admired by many in the impact business space, this book by Mycoskie is an inspiring and easily digestible read.
The B Corp Handbook, Second Edition: How You Can Use Business as a Force for Good
By Dr. Tiffany Jana & Ryan Honeyman
Have you been curious about what the B Corporation movement is all about? Interested in what sort of standards these certified B Corporation companies hold themselves to? For anyone who is committed to or curious about using their business as a force for good, I’d highly recommend the B Corp Handbook.
This handbook reads a bit like a manual, but for good reason—the B Corporation community has taken “impact” and “social consciousness” in the business world and made those concepts into something tangible, measurable, and achievable as opposed to just “talk” or a marketing campaign.
If you want ideas and inspiration for how to make a greater impact with your business or just want to understand the rigor that social business leaders with that B Corp stamp put themselves through, read this.
One of the Co-Authors, Ryan Honeyman, was also generous enough to spend some time with me on the podcast talking about the book and core additions to the second edition regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
By Jacqueline Novogratz
In autobiographical fashion, Novogratz shares her journey from a career in international banking to supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses in African communities in her book, The Blue Sweater.
With an honest look at some of the breaking points of charity and traditional goodwill, Novogratz shares engaging stories of her own development and understanding of how international poverty and economic development can be addressed in the modern world.
As well, Novogratzs takes on the discussion of what role both philanthropy and capitalism might reasonably play. For a more in-depth introduction to her book, consider reading our full summary of The Blue Sweater before diving in.
Jacqueline is the Founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that identifies and invests in entrepreneurs using their business models to address global poverty.
A Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World
By Jacqueline Novogratz
Another book by Novogratz, A Manifesto for a Moral Revolution is her newest. This one is essentially Jacqueline’s distillation of a career’s/life’s worth of lessons in the space of ‘building a better world.’
She is one of the most well-known impact-driven entrepreneurs herself, and over her lifetime she’s interacted with and encountered thousands of others. This book is an easy read that’s ripe with reflections and advice on approaches to work that involves serving others.
If you are curious about what separates the most prolific and determined social entrepreneurs from others, this book by Jacqueline acts as the guide.
IndieBound was launched in 2008 by the American Booksellers Association to help book buyers support their local, independent bookstores.
Independent bookstores play a vital role in local communities and economies. They add uniqueness to a community, and, for every $100 spent at an independently owned bookstore, $68 of that stays in the local community. In contrast, if you spend that $100 with a national chain, or worse, Amazon, only $43 will go back into your local community.
Indiebound helps connect you with the local independent bookstores near you, see how.
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
By: Anand Giridharadas
Anand Giridharadas’ book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, is a must-read for any ‘change agent’ truly committed to leaving the world a better place than they found it.
This title came recommended to me by Ryan Honeyman (listed above) on an episode of The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast. I think it appealed to Ryan as a challenge of self-reflection just as it appeals to many others doing social impact work.
The book challenges everyone in the space to honestly reflect on their efforts: Is that work going to affect positive systemic change, or does it purely appear good while preserving a status quo of inequality and injustice.
Anand even takes aim at the Certified B Corporation movement (which we here at Grow Ensemble are fans/aspiring members of!). If you are committed to true impact and are prepared to question and analyze your outlook on how real change must be made, then I highly recommend picking up Anand’s book.
Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World
By: Rutger Bregman
This title comes from the Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, who burst on to the public scene with his comments at the Davos World Economic Forum. There, he challenged the wealthy and powerful attendees to reflect on the issue of tax avoidance and the rich not willing to pay their own fair share.
While much of Utopia for Realists is directed at changes in public policy and government intervention, you can’t help but be inspired and consider the role that social entrepreneurs might play in his ambitious call to live in a world that we might consider a “utopia.”
From eradicating poverty to living in a world with open borders, Bregman asserts that everything that people may think of as humanitarian pipedreams are in fact possible—we’ve just forgotten how to dream of a reality that’s much better than our own.
If you want a book that will make your mind race with possibilities of what a “utopia” might look like and how that might connect to a future nonprofit, social enterprise, or work in with your existing purpose-driven business, I’d recommend diving into Bregman’s book here.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
By: Yvon Chouinard
Patagonia is one of the ‘top tier’ examples of companies that are committed to social and environmental sustainability. Ever wonder why?
Well, it all starts with Yvon. And in Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon shares with readers exactly why Patagonia has become the company it has and how it avoided many of the typical traps of for-profit product and clothing businesses.
Yvon is a reluctant entrepreneur (duh, see title), and more so than most, he refuses to believe that business must be done a certain way. Any aspiring or active entrepreneur (or anyone who finds themselves reluctant to identify themselves as such) in the purpose-driven business movement should read this book for inspiration from one of its ‘founders.’
The first half of the book covers Yvon’s biography, and the second half distills Patagonia’s values and practices around all the essential functions of business. If you are in sustainable product design or are considering a new business in the space, you’ll salivate over their product design philosophy.
Take It a Step Further
Dive deeper into lessons and takeaways from Let My People Go Surfing with our in-depth #ReadEnsemble post and podcast.
Also by Yvon is The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years , which he co-authored with Vincent Stanley.
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
By Dr. Adam Grant
Where career and business success often feel inextricably intertwined with some level of coercion, manipulation, and self-interest, Grant’s book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, evokes a sigh of relief with his comforting argument to the contrary. In fact, he argues, if we trust our intuition that says “give, give, give” without expectation of anything in return, we will be rewarded beyond what we’d get when we entertain the “take, take, take” (and the data backs that up).
If you’ve ever found yourself disgruntled with what seems to be a zero-sum game in the business world, or if you have reservations about trusting your gut when it tells you to defer to generosity, pick up this book and enjoy!
The social entrepreneur who finds a rightful distaste with the business pressure to consider your own needs above those of others will find relief in the fact that this pressure is a misguided tenent of the entrepreneurial career.
Forces for Good: Creating a Better World Through Purpose-Driven Businesses
By: Paul Hargreaves
Forces for Good: Creating a Better World Through Purpose-Driven Business, by Paul Hargreaves, is an inspiring call to bring more good into the world of business. Paul is the Founder and Chief Executive of Cotswold Fayre, a specialty and fine food wholesaler in the UK. His business has proudly been a Certified B Corporation since 2015.
With 20+ years of experience in purpose-driven business, Paul’s stories and insight make for an excellent introduction to the topic of ‘business of good.’ Throughout the book, Paul makes step-by-step recommendations for implementing more purpose and empathy into your work—making this a practical guide for current business leaders wanting to evolve their own organizations.
The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World
By Michael J. Gelb and Rajendra Sisodia
The Healing Organization, by Michael Gelb and Rajendra Sisodia, aims at convincing skeptics of the ‘better business movement’ that financial reward can truly be balanced with positive societal outcomes.
The co-authors make the case that businesses should not just not do harm, but, in fact, their work should improve the quality of life of their community—reversing environmental devastation, economic distress, and political divide.
Businesses must not continue to carry the reputation of being a source of employee, customer, and societal pain, but should instead be a place of healing.
Raj Sisodia is the Co-Founder of Conscious Capitalism, an organization that supports a global network of entrepreneurs and business leaders committed to elevating humanity through business.
Michael Gelb has authored 16 books focusing on the fields of creative thinking, innovative leadership, organizational development, and accelerated learning.
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist
By Kate Raworth
In Doughnut Economics, author Kate Raworth argues that it’s time our understanding and application of economics is updated for the modern world we live in today. With the economic debate being a constant in public policy and with urgent motivators for action like climate change and inequality, Raworth makes a strong argument we need to revise our thinking offering a path forward.
From breaking our societal addiction to growth, and reinventing money and finance to work for the good of the planet and people, Raworth inspires readers to imagine a new world economy that’s regenerative: in service of people and the planet.
This book comes well recommended by our many podcast guests!
Other Notable Titles:
- Do the KIND Thing, by Daniel Lubetzky — Better World Books or Indiebound
- Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World, By Lisa Sweetingham and Scott Harrison — Better World Books or Indiebound
Have you read any of these? Any titles we left out?
Let us know.
Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble
Cory is the Co-Founder & CEO of Grow Ensemble, as well as the Host of The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast. From Washington State, Cory now resides in San Antonio, TX with his brilliant fiancée and their rescue pup. Cory is deeply passionate about using his creative and cognitive capacities for doing good.
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