Picking a Needle out of a Haystack: Selecting for Social Entrepreneurs

Transparency. One simple word, yet it is amazing how many organizations still reject the concept; still do not realize our world has changed.

Fortunately, some not only ‘get it’ but continually demonstrate they do.

Take for example the AVI CHAI Foundation, a significant funder to the Jewish world who is currently in sunset. They certainly get it. In order to help others learn from their experiences, they’ve hired an outside team to track their spend-down process and make the findings publicly available. AVI CHAI’s North American Executive Director, Yossi Prager, recently spoke about the Foundation’s plans and shortly there-after made his presentation available for publication. An example more should follow.

Then we have the Jewish Agency for Israel. Love them, or hate them, their transparency puts almost every other global Jewish organization to shame. What other major organization, while developing a new strategic direction, holds open board plenaries and allows anyone in the room to join the discussion? Who else, again in an open forum, provides the type of budget detail for both the current and following fiscal years the way the Jewish Agency has for as many years as I can remember?

And then we have the upstart Joshua Venture Group – one of the new kids on the block – who demonstrates by their own actions the two key words at the top of their website, Bold Visions.

Founded in 1999, and relaunched in 2009, Joshua Venture Group (JVGroup) invests in social entrepreneurs working to expand and reinvigorate the Jewish community. In the spring of 2010, JVGroup received 131 applications for their soon-to-be re-launched Dual Investment Program. Although only eight fellows were eventually chosen to participate in the program, an analysis of the applicant pool revealed who were developing social entrepreneurial ideas, where they were located, and what topics their ideas covered. Joshua Venture Group shared this information in the aggregate to provide a larger understanding of the field.

Today, they release a second paper which describes the process used to select the current cohort of fellows. More specifically, it explains how they assessed who they thought would be successful both as social entrepreneurs as well as positive members of a cohort. By sharing the process, they intend to exemplify how transparency and knowledge-sharing can lift all boats, and how they play a role in advancing the philanthropic and social innovation sectors.

Social entrepreneurs change the world. Joshua Venture Group was founded on this premise, and our program is as much about cultivating social entrepreneurial talent as it is about growing sustainable ventures. But the question is: what makes someone a social entrepreneur? How did we determine that Alison, Ari, Eli, Nati, Rachel, Sarah, Zelig and Zhenya embody what a social entrepreneur is and can accomplish?

Like other capacity builders working in the field, we initially grappled with how to build structure around the complex and often subjective process of identifying these individuals. As we re-launched our Dual Investment Program in Fall 2009, we pushed ourselves to question what we know and don’t know about the inherent qualities that define social entrepreneurs, and embarked on a process to better understand and identify what we were looking for.

We found that we benefited from looking at frameworks from the corporate human capital arena. Through a thoughtful and analytical process, we strengthened and more deeply defined our understanding of a social entrepreneur, and, in turn, enriched our selection process. We are now pleased to share our process and learnings with the broader community, and hope to continue to find ways to enhance our sector’s ability to support the amazing and inspiring work of social entrepreneurs.

Click here to access your copy of the report.