Press Coverage




Social or Cultural Entrepreneurship: An Argument for a New Distinction

By Courtney E. Martin and Lisa Witter | December 8. 2011

(Stanford Social Innovation Review) Cultural entrepreneurship is different than social entrepreneurship because it is primarily focused on reimagining social roles and motivating new behaviors.

 This past September, as Georgia inmate Troy Davis’ life hung in the balance, a coalition of anti-death penalty and criminal justice advocates across the United States joined forces to create the “I Am Troy Davis” meme, in which people sympathetic to what many saw as his abuse at the hands of the justice system tweeted and posted in solidarity on their Facebook and Google+ profiles. Although Troy Davis ultimately was executed, advocates argue that the effort sparked an expanded awareness of and renewed conversation about the death penalty.

Further north in Canada, a couple of fed-up young feminists in Toronto decided to take to the streets this spring after a police officer insinuated that a recent rape victim was “asking for it” because she wasn’t dressed appropriately. They dubbed their effort “Slutwalk,” in an attempt to reclaim the word “slut” and to make the no-holds barred argument that no woman—no matter what she’s wearing—deserves to be sexually assaulted. The idea caught fire, and to date over 70 SlutWalks have taken place around the world, including most major U.S. cities, Berlin, Cape Town, New Delhi, and Mexico City. Debate over the word “slut” and the future of the feminist movement has exploded from the blogosphere to The New York Times.

And perhaps the most hyped gathering of all, the Oct. 30, 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the Washington Mall, hosted by beloved Comedy Central duo Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, was attended by over 200,000 people. Though Stewart and Colbert’s approach was characteristically humorous, their message was dead serious: the tenor of our politics no longer reflects who we are as citizens.

All of these efforts—as disparate as they may seem—are pioneering what we believe is a new approach to social change: cultural entrepreneurship. Cultural entrepreneurs, who often rely heavily on new media tools such as Twitter and Kickstarter, use persuasive communications and peer influence to shift attitudes, beliefs, and behavior and, in doing so, change the world for the better.

Think of cultural entrepreneurship as social entrepreneurship’s little sister. Social entrepreneurship has gotten considerable attention in the last decade in terms of resources, investment, and analysis—and deservedly so. Some of the most exciting new innovations in social change are happening under the ever widening big tent movement of social entrepreneurship, fueled by organizations like Ashoka, Acumen Fund, and Echoing Green. David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World, has founded the blog Dowser that focuses on “solution journalism,” giving voice to innovators who pursue the much-coveted triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

As social entrepreneurship has come of age as a field, it’s become more and more apparent to us that a new distinction must be made between innovations that focus on changing markets and systems and those that change hearts and minds. Building on the work of entities like the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, we argue that cultural entrepreneurship is different than social entrepreneurship, because it is focused primarily on reimagining social roles and motivating new behaviors—often working with and in popular culture to reach the widest possible audience. Social entrepreneurs solve problems by disrupting existing systems, as microfinance has, or through breakthrough product design, like the solar powered lights from d.light design or Barefoot Power. Cultural entrepreneurs, on the other hand, solve problems by disrupting belief systems—using television shows like Glee to initiate viewers into the disability or GLBTQ rights frameworks or the Twitter campaign #mensaythingstome, designed to expose anonymous misogyny online.

To be truly useful, these two types of entrepreneurship need not be thought of as mutually exclusive. Some social entrepreneurs can be cultural entrepreneurs and vice-a-versa., for example, has created a college loan lending system through online giving for students in the developing world. The nonprofit is proving that there is a market for other institutional lenders, and is increasing hope and supercharging educational expectations among people in these communities. The former is more of a market innovation; the latter is an affirmation of people’s potential.

Another recent example is the Girls Not Brides: Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. Much discussed at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative, the campaign is being championed by The Elders—an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela. Turns out that 10 million girls—that’s 25,000 a day—are married before they turn 18. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of The Elders, said that he is as committed to ending child marriage as he once was to ending Apartheid.

Advocates of Girls Not Brides know that child marriage can’t only be legislated away or solved through a product innovation. Laws can’t always be enforced in distant villages and, more importantly, they don’t change people’s hearts and minds. Lasting generational change is more likely to happen through authentic and locally led community engagement. Cultural entrepreneur Molly Melching, founder of Tostan and a Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship Fellow, does this in West Africa, where she works within existing cultural practices to help villages educate themselves on the dangers of child marriage and the benefits of delaying marriage—often using traditional dance. Molly and other people working on child marriage are confident that the tradition can end in one generation.

Of course, shifting cultural norms has always been an intrinsic part of social movements. If one looks at the ways in which the anti-war, civil rights, and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s functioned, it’s undeniable that culture, as much as politics, were at the center of those world-changing efforts. But as the globalization of media—old and new—has taken hold and our cultural consumption patterns have shifted so dramatically, so has the relationship between social change and culture.

The speed alone at which an issue can gain attention is baffling now that social media plays such a large part in our lives. Consider this example from August 2011: after an outraged young woman spotted a t-shirt aimed at tweens in her local J.C. Penny that read, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me,” she started an online petition on and the social media ball started rolling. Within just hours of the Twitter frenzy, J.C. Penny announced that it was pulling the shirts from every US store. Corporate accountability and consumer advocacy is taking a completely new shape, thanks to cultural entrepreneurs across the Internet.

Social innovators have recognized that without definitive cultural shifts, their market-based interventions can fail. Another example from an innovator that we both advise: Katie Orenstein, founder of The Op-Ed Project and an Echoing Green Fellow, who has been working to diversify public debate by urging more diverse voices to contribute opinion editorials to the nation’s newspapers. Orenstein recognized that she couldn’t just teach women and others habitually left out of the Wall Street Journal to write op-eds; she also needed to convince them that their knowledge and experience were significantly valuable. The surface challenge was ostensibly a supply and demand problem—how do you get more women and minorities to submit op-eds and speak out? But the larger context was a cultural conundrum. After painstaking trial and error, coaching thousands of women and minorities, Orenstein and her staff have created a curriculum that doesn’t just get people writing—it gets them thinking differently about themselves, their value, and their responsibility to the world.


Op-Ed Project Sees Success  With Program’s First Alums
Fall 2011

(Media Report to Women) The Op-Ed Project was launched in 2008 with the goal of increasing the number of women’s voices on the opinion pages of newspapers and in other media where opinion is increasing as a staple but where women’s opinions are a small minority of the content.

Founder Katie Orenstein and associate Anne DePree report encouraging results from participants in the public seminar programs The Op-Ed Project organizes; from those who in another program that pairs new op-ed writers with experienced ones; and from women who become fellows of The Op-Ed Project and commit to a year-long program of specific publishing goals.

“The average success rate for our programs is 25 percent, which is based on number of op-eds published, not the number of individuals published. The success rate of those who use the mentor-editor pool is nearly 60 percent. The success rate of our fellowship model is over 100 percent at the halfway point, based on the number of op-eds published, not the number of individuals published,” say Orenstein and DePree.

“The success rate of public programs varies widely, however, the first Chicago session had 26 people, which has generated 25 op-eds … we think those are extraordinary statistics.

“The main area where women's voices are well-represented are on topic matters pertaining to women. Consequently, this is one area that we don't focus extra attention on. Areas where women are underrepresented in general are areas in which additional women's voices can be valuable; for example, technology, business, military.”

The Byline Blog on the OEP website tells the story of recent successes:





Women as thought leaders

By Melanie Balog | November 26,2011

(The Post and Courier) Sometimes the hardest part of getting into a conversation is recognizing that you have something to contribute.


In an age where it seems everyone's opinion is readily available on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, there are still some people who don't chime in enough.

"A lot of women who have thoughts that are worth sharing, who should be thought leaders, don't see themselves that way," said Allison Piepmeier, director of Women's and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston.

That's where The OpEd Project comes in.

College of Charleston faculty and staff participated in the national project which encourages women to make their voices heard by coaching them on how to identify an area of expertise, where they can speak with authority. Then they write op-ed submissions to newspapers, news magazines and websites.

Beyond gender barriers

Female faculty and staff are certainly confident in their areas of scholarly research.

"All of us have had things published in the specific area of our research," Piepmeier said. "That's written for a really specific audience."

The OpEd project teaches women at colleges and universities, as well as community leaders and those in women's organizations, how to translate an area of expertise into something for a more general audience.

You probably don't see a ton of women-written opinion pieces or editorials in most newspapers, including this one. Unfortunately, that's a national trend.

According to The OpEd Project's website, op-eds written by women constitute only 16 percent to 30 percent of what you see in a given week in print and online.

"We're not seeing (women) write op-eds. We're not seeing them on the news," Piepmeier said. "It's not because women don't have things worth saying, it's because we're not training women to be thought leaders."

Beyond publication

You might have read Alison Smith's defense of College of Charleston students, or her piece about a women's co-op of coffee growers in Nicaragua, both of which were published in The Post and Courier. Smith is an affiliated faculty member in the college's department of French, Francophone and Italian studies, as well as in Women's and Gender Studies. Piepmeier also published a piece in The State about prenatal testing. And they're just two of the published participants.

"It was absolutely one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had," Smith said. Smith not only got great feedback, she received public speaking invitations. Creating continuing dialogues is another goal of The OpEd Project.

"Not only are you getting more opinions out there … but it also creates new opportunities for exchanging thoughts," Smith said.

That ensures the project will have long-lasting benefits for women at C of C, Piepmeier said.

"The point is you have thoughts and knowledge that the world needs," Piepmeier said. "I'm so glad that we connected with them."

We should be too.







Why Op-Eds Matter On The Playground Of Ideas

By Katie Orenstein | October 25, 2011

(The Hartford Courant) Why do op-eds matter? Op-eds are what we call "front-door idea forums" '— where public thought leadership begins. They feed all other media and drive ideas at higher levels in politics, business, academia.

Why are these forums so powerful? They are not just about what's going on in the world, but about interpretation. What should we think about this? What is right and wrong, and who should we root for?

Opinion pages were long considered one of the most read sections of a traditional newspaper; they still generate the vast majority of letters to the editor at The New York Times and The Hartford Courant. As traditional media move online, readership is more trackable: On any given day, opinion essays are among the top 10 most-read articles at the largest papers.

Perhaps even more striking is what is happening with social media. According to a Yahoo study, the most common stories shared via social media are opinion pieces. The most shared story in March 2010 was The Wall Street Journal's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," by Amy Chua, with 347,000 likes (which translates into an estimated 34,700,000 page views).

All of this — and especially the new media technology landscape — has created an interesting opportunity to change the demographics of who gets heard.

Until about 10 years ago — or even five — thought leaders and ideas were mostly anointed/curated by all-powerful media gatekeepers. There were relatively few high-impact outlets where voices could shape policy and public opinion on a mass scale. The gatekeepers who controlled access to the most prestigious of them pretty much decided which ideas would be big — which would shape the great conversations of our age (and attract funding, drive policy, etc.) — and which people would rise in visibility and influence.

Since space in traditional print media was limited, very few voices shared the limelight. Most people didn't think of themselves as someone who could have a public voice, let alone a voice that could change the world.

Today almost anyone can have a public voice. All you need is an Internet connection. This corresponds with the rise of numerous commons — such as The Huffington Post — where people can share their ideas, and be exposed to an exponentially wider range of unvetted ideas.

Paradoxically, the technology that gave so many of us a bigger voice can also make us tone deaf: We now have the ability to curate for ourselves the opinions we hear (or read) — creating, in essence, our personal echo chambers.

But that isn't a given. If we want, we can also read a wider range of stuff, often weirder stuff, from a broader range of people than we did even a few years ago. This makes for much richer reading possibilities — and potentially a much richer world conversation.

However, there is a caveat. Anyone can now publish her ideas, but that does not mean those ideas are any good — or will have readers. Today, the scarce commodity is not space on a printed page, but our attention. For that reason, traditional gatekeepers are still very important as curators; and now we also have crowd-sourced curating, where the most shared, or forwarded, or "liked" opinions rise to the top.

Not just opinions — also people. We crowd-source credibility by rating authors.

If we want to be influential and have a big audience, we can reach out to readers directly. But we have to be compelling, trustworthy, newsworthy and entertaining, and we have to build our credibility and visibility one reader at a time.

More people now have a voice — which is good — but citizen journalism, a citizen commentariat, and crowd-sourcing present a problem: How do we maintain standards and ensure quality? How do we ensure misinformation and diatribe don't triumph? How do we ensure that the new world conversation doesn't simply replicate the old?

The answer is, we should be sharing knowledge and best practices of thought leadership beyond the tiny cadre of pundits who have historically held the reins. Having a voice, and knowing how to use it powerfully and responsibly, are now part of being a regular citizen — or should be.

Katie Orenstein is founder and director of The OpEd Project in New York, which is an initiative to diversify public debate, by expanding the range of voices and especially the number of female experts in key thought leadership forums.



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