The 11 must-read books for every social entrepreneur

by Mirabelle Morah / April 2023
  1. “A book is a gift you can open again and again”. – Garrison Keillor 

What books are you reading now and what new books do you plan to add to your shelf? We asked several people within the social enterprise sector for their top book recommendations. Below is a list of 11 book recommendations that can make a difference in a social entrepreneur’s life. 

11 books every social entrepreneur needs to read 

Americanah1. “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This novel has been described by NPR as a “knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color” as well as “a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us… A steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience” by the New York Times Book Review. Americanah is a novel about two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race, belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora and the search for identity and a home.

2. “An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy” by Shaun Loney and Will Braun

According to Julia Deans, Executive Director of Futurpreneur, “Loney offers convincing evidence that social entrepreneurs have answers that business and government don’t”. Shaun Loney’s An Army of Problem Solvers presents a practical vision for addressing chronic societal issues such as unemployment, climate change and high incarceration rates. Loney argues that the problem is not the issues themselves, but rather that governments hinder problem solvers from finding solutions. He identifies social enterprises, social entrepreneurs, and the small farm movement as the “solutions economy” and calls for governments to make it easier for these groups to do their work. 

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“Collapse- How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond-3. “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond

Collapse provides a good insight into the history of mankind; what makes, sustains and destroys civilisations. The book explores the factors that led to the demise of societies worldwide from environmental damage to climate change, globalisation, rapid population growth and unwise political decisions. However, some societies persevered by finding solutions. Collapse is a brilliant and absorbing read that raises the urgent question of how we can avoid ecological suicide. 

4. “Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism” by Muhammad Yunus

Over the past twenty years, free markets have become prevalent worldwide. However, traditional capitalism hasn’t been able to address problems such as poverty and inequality. Muhammad Yunus, in Creating a World Without Poverty introduces the idea of social business. This is where entrepreneurs apply their creative vision to tackle today’s most pressing issues, including feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, providing healthcare, and protecting the environment. 

5. “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” by Kate Raworth“Doughnut Economics- Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” by Kate Raworth

 Doughnut Economics is a simple, playful and inspiring book for a new generation of economic thinkers. Kate Raworth suggests revising economic thinking for the 21st century through her book Doughnut Economics, which offers seven ways to transform our understanding of economics. This includes breaking our addiction to growth, redesigning money and finance to serve people and creating regenerative and distributive economies. Doughnut Economics provides a new compass for guiding global development, government policy, corporate strategy and sets new standards for economic success. 

6. “Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results” by Peter Stroh

This is a must-read for anyone looking to apply systems thinking to complex social issues. The book explains approaches that can help readers understand the importance of systems thinking and how to incorporate it into problem-solving, decision-making and strategic planning. These skills can help readers achieve better results without becoming technical experts. 

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“The Food Fighters- DC Central Kitchen's First Twenty-Five Years on the Front Lines of Hunger and Poverty” by Alexander Justice Moore-7. “The Food Fighters: DC Central Kitchen’s First Twenty-Five Years on the Front Lines of Hunger and Poverty” by Alexander Justice Moore

Robert Egger’s realisation that the process of handing out meals to the homeless was more meaningful to those serving the meals than those receiving them. This led him to create DC Central Kitchen, which has since become a model for feeding and empowering those in need. By partnering with chefs, former convicts and addicts seeking a second chance, Egger’s organisation has helped the homeless trade a life of crime and dependency for careers in the culinary industry. The book “The Food Fighters” by a DC Central Kitchen insider showcases Egger’s innovative approach to fighting hunger and creating opportunities that have positively impacted lives. 

8. “The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success” by Carol Sanford

In this book, Sanford presents a new approach to business that integrates responsibility into every aspect of an organisation. Sanford argues that sustainability efforts are often limited and that businesses need to re-imagine success by making responsibility a practical skill that can be applied at every level of an organisation. By making responsibility integral to all aspects of a business, it can become an engine for innovation, profitability and purpose. This can thereby create returns at every level, both in terms of business and social impact.

9. “The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy” by Mariana Mazzucato

 This book scrutinizes the current global financial system and its failing to distinguish between value creation and value extraction. The author argues that this blurriness has led to confusion between rents and profits, distorted measurements of growth and GDP and increased inequality. To prevent future crises and promote economic growth, the book posits that we need to reevaluate capitalism, public policy and the way we measure value in society. 

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10. “Transformative Innovation: A Guide to Practice and Policy” by Graham Leicester

Leicester posits that in contrast to “Sustaining innovation” and “disruptive innovation”, “transformative innovation” is the most powerful type of innovation that can create fundamental and sustainable change in line with our aspirations for the future. This guide offers practical advice for policymakers, funders and innovators on how to achieve transformative innovation at scale. “We Are Displaced- My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World” by Malala Yousafzai

11. “We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World” by Malala Yousafzai

Nobel Peace Prize winner and bestselling author Malala Yousafzai introduces individuals behind the statistics of displacement worldwide in her book We Are Displaced. Malala shares stories of young girls like María, Zaynab, Sabreen and Ajida, who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and war. Malala also reflects on her own experiences as a displaced person in Pakistan and as an international activist. We Are Displaced is a powerful reminder that every one of the 68.5 million displaced individuals is a person with hopes and dreams. 

Contributors to the list include Maeve Curtin, Bella Eames-Matthews, Helen Harvey, Gerry Higgins and Nishit Raj Singh. 

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Mirabelle Morah is the community and communications manager at SEWF