Each year The Schwab Foundation searches the globe for outstanding social innovators, with business models that are proven to drive social and environmental change. So what qualities do Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs share? And what can they tell us about great leadership?

1Great Leaders have integrity: Christie Peacock, Founder and Chair of Sidai Africa: ““People have to believe in you, and believe that you’re true to the vision. So you have to do that in the way that you live and work, and your actions must match your words.”

2. Great leaders don’t put up with poor performance: Duncan Maru from Possible knows you’re only as good as your team: “Anyone running an organization understands how important talent is. But many early stage social enterprises are impatient, cut corners on hiring, or don’t transition people out quickly enough when things are not working. You need to be aggressive and brutally honest about your talent pool.”

3. Great leaders don’t underestimate the value of trust: Take time at the start to build trust into public-private collaborations, says Ernest Darkoh, founding partner of BroadReach Healthcare: “You have to invest time upfront before you can begin to action anything meaningful.”

4. Great Leaders challenge the status quo: Jen Hyatt founded Big White Wall – a digital community for people with mental health problems. “We disrupt the top-down model of governments and companies delivering services to the individual,” said Hyatt. “Now individuals can create and collaboratively engage in the delivery of their own services. You have to work with where power currently lies in the system even as you constructively challenge the dominant models.”

5. Great Leaders never cut corners: Colombian social entrepreneur Catalina Escobar, President of the Juan Felipe Foundation, says paying attention to the metrics of excellence will give the best returns. “If you bring poor things to the poor, you’re extending poverty and misery. But if you bring the best to the poor … social transformation will kick in.”

6. Great Leaders empower women: Maysoun Odeh Gangat says enabling women to communicate honestly and openly is critical. She co-founded Ramallah based Radio NISAA and tells aspiring women leaders to keep going: “Don’t feel demotivated. Restrictions can be overcome if we are steadfast and patient.”

7. Great Leaders invest in creativity: Don’t ignore the transforming power of the arts, says Tim Jones. The CEO of Artscape embeds artists in cities, and says “creative placemaking can be a catalyst to help grow local economies and build social cohesion.”

8. Great Leaders are values driven: “Our values create our value,” says Kristin Groos Richmond, co-founder of Revolution Foods. “Align yourself with a team, a board and investors who believe in your mission.”

9. Great Leaders keep their eye on the prize: Never lose touch with your social mission and don’t become wedded to your model at the expense of solving the problem. “Good leaders start with themselves,” said Gonzalo Muñoz from TriCiclos. “Fall in love with the cause you’re trying to solve, and not necessarily with your organisation.”

10: Great Leaders re-imagine everything: Think big advises Jonathan Hursh, Founder and CEO of Utopia, and “imagine a world that is very, very different than the one that we’ve inherited.”


Social Entrepreneurs: Innovators for Impact

This post is part of a major series of interviews with leading social entrepreneurs associated with the Schwab Foundation. For further insights from the world of social enterprise see the following posts:

Explainer: What is a social entrepreneur

5 powerful ideas for global impact from social entrepreneurs

10 lessons from leaders — social entrepreneurs tell all

How to make everyone a microentrepreneur

Driving up school standards in Kenya with smart data

The full set of interviews


Author: Brigid Bowen is a freelance writer and editor

Image: Belongings are placed on higher ground after floodwaters caused by the heavy rainfall flowing from the swollen Bagmati River entered a slum in Kathmandu, Nepal August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar