The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as ancient Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu famously said. For aspiring socially conscious, mission-driven entrepreneurs, taking the bold steps needed to change the world often begins with taking a page out of others’ books — in some cases quite literally.
One of the best ways to gather inspiration — and to hone in on how you can enrich people’s lives through a purpose-driven for-profit business — is to read books penned by and about successful social entrepreneurs. Reading their inspiring startup stories and sage advice can give you the knowledge and courage to take those critical first steps on your own road to social-entrepreneurial success.
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In addition to motivating you to “go confidently in the direction of your dreams” and to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” reading up on social entrepreneurship from insiders’ experienced, insightful points of view can give you a leg up on shaping your vision for a brighter future and help you define exactly how your enterprise will play a pivotal role in that future.
To help you on your way, we’ve put together a brief list of must-read books for entrepreneurs on a mission to help others and change the world. Read all about them below:
Start Something That Matters
by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes
In his book — part memoir, part how-to social entrepreneurship guide — “Chief Shoe Giver” Blake Mycoskie tells the fascinating story of how, in 2006, he came to launch TOMS Shoes, now a world-famous footwear and apparel company.
Through light, inspiring (and sometimes funny) prose, he shares how he hatched his pioneering “One for One” model. “It was a simple concept,” Mycoskie writes. “Sell a pair of shoes today, give a pair of shoes tomorrow. Something about the idea felt so right, even though I had no experience, or even connections, in the shoe business.” He also details his pledge to build TOMS around “a promise for a better tomorrow,” and imparts advice on how others can build that better tomorrow through remarkable social enterprises.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
by Yvon Chouinard, founder Patagonia
In his newly revised autobiography, Yvon Chouinard shares how he blended giving back into the business D.NA. of his legacy outdoor apparel brand from Day One, including pledging hundreds of sizeable donations from profits to environmental organizations. The adventuring French-Canadian former handyman tells the cliffhanger tales of his extreme climbing expeditions that led to many of Patagonia’s renowned rugged sports clothing and equipment designs.
Through various narrative twists and turns, Chouinard imparts essential guidance, wisdom — and a “blueprint for hope” — for anyone seeking to follow in his footsteps, in business and in life, social entrepreneurs, of course, included.
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
by journalist David Bornstein
In his popular book, described by the New York Times as “a Bible in its field,” David Bornstein, a veteran social innovation-focused journalist, highlights several inspiring successful social enterprise case studies from around the world. By profiling the outside-of-the-box entrepreneurs and visionaries behind successful social ventures the world over — among them, those of Brazilian philanthropist Roberto Baggio, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jody Williams environmental activist Diana Propper — Bornstein vividly chronicles some of the most pivotal social entrepreneurship milestones of our time.
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The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World
By business book author John Elkington and former director of the University of Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship Pamela Hartigan
Through colorful narratives, the co-authors of this engaging book highlight innovative business influencers on missions to improve some of the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental issues through unconventional social business models and strategies.
In each chapter, the authors detail the radical ways in which certain risk-taking social entrepreneurs have architected their mission-driven ventures for optimal impact, and the key lessons readers can learn from their trailblazing efforts. You’ll learn how these bold changemakers are revolutionizing legacy industries and business models through new technologies, and paving the way for future generations.
Get Big Fast and Do More Good: Start Your Business, Make It Huge, and Change the World
by Yes to Inc. and Yoobi founder Ido Leffler and Yes to Inc. founder Lance Kalish
In this best-selling book, Australian entrepreneurs Lance Kalish and Ido Leffler, co-foundres a San Francisco-based natural beauty products company called Yes to Inc., warmly (and sometimes humorously) share how their eco-friendly social venture balances profit and purpose, helping people care for their bodies naturally through sustainable, “green and clean” products, and by giving back to their Yes To Seed fund. The fund plants micro farms in schools in Africa to help children in remote areas of the country eat healthfully.
In addition to exploring what inspired Leffler and Kalish to brave the social-entrepreneurial leap together (on a shared hunch and without any prior beauty product or retail experience), the co-founders also impart their advice on how to best launch a startup while “maintaining solid principles, investing in meaningful business relationships, giving back to the community, and still making it home in time for dinner.”
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The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future
by Steve Case, co-founder of AOL
As an early Internet pioneer, Steve Case helped shaped the World Wide Web as we know it. In the process, he also helped to mold our world and how we interact, intersect and transact online. In his latest book, he sets out to prepare the world for the next evolution of the Internet, which he refers to as the “Third Wave.”
Case envisions a future in which “entrepreneurs will vastly transform major real-world sectors, like health, education, transportation, energy and food” (areas that often attract socially conscious, mission-driven startups) and in the process “change the way we live our daily lives.” In this enlightening, 13-chapter book, Case weaves readers through the winning strategies he says businesses big and small will need to embrace in order to build high-impact relationships that will meet people’s ever-evolving needs amidst the digital revolution.