“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
In the TRANSFORM Support Hub, we help social enterprises scale by growing their revenues through partnerships and commercial sales opportunities.
What sets the most successful social entrepreneurs apart is their ability to maintain a growth mindset: a desire to continuously learn, improve, and adapt in the face of new information.
Below, we’ve rounded up 12 books to help any social entrepreneur on their journey towards growth, impact, and personal fulfillment in 2023.
1: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
[Self care, health]
Entrepreneurs have long been told that they need to care for their physical health in order to keep their minds sharp and bodies healthy. The benefits of doing so are innumerable, but physical activity and a healthy diet are not the only components of a healthy lifestyle.
An often overlooked and deceptively simple component of health is our breath: taking air in, letting it out, repeated 25,000 times a day. In Breath, journalist James Nestor brings together interviews, modern research, and cutting edge studies to show how making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start performance, health, and more.
2: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland & J.J. Sutherland
For organizations to scale, they need to be agile and efficient. That requires effective planning processes rooted in accountability, team interaction, and constant iterative improvement. In Scrum, Jeff and J.J. Sutherland offer a thought-provoking look into the leadership and management process that is changing the way we live, along with guidance about how to implement it to advance your own goals — whether it be inventing a trailblazing technology, devising a new system of education, or pioneering a way to feed the hungry.
3: Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results by David Peter Stroh
[Partnership Building, Social Impact]
Systems Thinking for Social Change offers concrete guidance on how to incorporate systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning—for everyone. While admittedly dense, , the lessons in this book are critical for social entrepreneurs who, by definition, are tackling complex problems that exist within larger systems.
4: The Systems Work of Social Change: How to Harness Connection, Context, and Power to Cultivate Deep and Enduring Change by Cynthia Rayner & François Bonnici
The issues of poverty, inequality, racial justice, and climate change have never been more pressing or paralyzing. But current approaches to social change, which rely on industrial models of production and power to “solve” social problems, are only further entrenching the status quo. So, how do you create lasting change? In The Systems Work of Social Change, Rayner and Bonnici outline a new set of principles and practices that focus on the process of change itself, rather than delivering “solutions.” Packed with case studies and real-world examples, this book is sure to inspire and demonstrate how as a social entrepreneurs you can be a more effective agent of change.
5: The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale by John A. List
[Company Building, Business Strategy]
“Scale” is a favored buzzword in the startup world, but it’s about more than just capital and market share. According to List, turning an idea into widespread impact depends on one thing only: whether it can achieve “high voltage”—the ability to be replicated at scale. Given that List draws on his experience at Uber, we were very skeptical of this book. However, The Voltage Effect exceeded all expectations. Beyond lessons learned from Uber’s failure to create a scale-ready culture, List also pulls on examples from companies, governmental interventions, and nonprofits that scale ideas to create meaningful impact. If you are growing your social enterprise and have aspirations for scale, this is a must-read.
6: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
[Marketing, PR, Communications]
Social enterprises often don’t have the marketing, advertising, or PR budgets needed to bring rapid attention to their business and impact models. But in Contagious, Berger suggests that word of mouth and social transmission are actually the most effective way to spread ideas. In it, you’ll learn the 6 basic principles that drive things to catch on, along with blueprints, examples, and advice on how to make your own product or idea spread.
7: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
The onslaught of crises from 2020, 2021, and 2022 have left those of us fighting for social and environmental change bruised and tired. Humankind is the book is the pick-me-up we need right now to show that humans are inherently good people that want connections, are active in helping each other, and want to build safe and sustainable communities. Bregman shows us that believing in human generosity and collaboration isn’t merely optimistic—it’s realistic.
8: The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy by Anand Giridharadas
To effectively drive change, social entrepreneurs need to build coalitions of support. Particularly in our fractured and polarized society, we need to be able to call out threats and injustices while calling in those who don’t agree with us. In The Persuaders, Giridharadas looks at some of the most effective persuaders in the USA’s political system. Drawing on community based organizing and the real work of connecting with other humans, this is a hope-inspiring book that provides practical guidance.
9: Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making by Tony Fadell
A history of one of the most successful product development leaders in modern time, Build looks at the personal journey of what it takes to build products that people will use. Packed full of advice and anecdotes from successes and failures, and covering every stage of an entrepreneur’s journey (from inception to exit), this book packed with good advice for businesses, and the people leading them.
10: Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine M. Pittman & Elizabeth M. Karle
Social entrepreneurs inherently take on a lot of risk and uncertainty – and problems with mental health and anxiety are widely reported within the field. In Rewire Your Anxious Brain, Pittman and Karle offer a unique, evidence-based solution to overcoming anxiety based in cutting-edge neuroscience and research. As a leader, you have tremendous influence over your team – and investing in your own mental health will benefit not only you but your entire organization. (Another great follow-up to this book is Albert Ellis’s book How to Control Your Anxiety).
11: Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen
Most entrepreneurs are aware that they need to grow as managers, and are fast to jump into books that help them manage and lead (like High Output Management, Multipliers, and the Effective Executive). However, Thanks for the Feedback takes a different approach by helping leaders understand what the people they are managing need in order to receive feedback and be managed, first. Building relationships that welcome feedback is necessary before you try new management practices. As a follow-up to this, make sure to read Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues.
12: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz
Negotiation and selling are essential skills not just for entrepreneurs, but really for any person. Life is a series of negotiations we need to be prepared for: buying a car, negotiating a salary, buying a home, renegotiating rent, deliberating with your partner. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you actionable insights grounded in research and experience to hold your own in any discussion.
The uncertainty and upheaval of the last few years forced us to act with an almost frenzied sense of urgency to address immediate challenges. But something seems to have shifted, and coming into 2023, we’re inspired to act out of renewed hope and optimism, as opposed to fear and survival responses. We hope that you find these books as thought-provoking and valuable as we have, and if you’d like to keep the learning going with live learning events, courses, and connections, we invite you to join us on the TRANSFORM Support Hub.