Howard Husock’s review of my book How To Change the World reads more like an op-ed for his ideas than a review of mine. In a number of instances, he misrepresents information from my book to make an anti-government case that the book simply does not support.
Husock notes that most of the social entrepreneurs I write about are responding to government failures, and many have had to overcome bureaucratic obstacles. This is true. But he fails to mention that a number have forged successful partnerships with governments to scale up their work. For example, Husock mistakenly calls Childline, a child protection system in India, “a privately supported call center” and writes that it has spread beyond Bombay to “11 other Indian cities.” In actuality, I note that Childline, which began as a private initiative by an entrepreneurial social worker, was later adopted as a formal government project. In the book, I report that, by 2002, it had spread to 42 cities (not 12, as Husock writes). The Indian government never could have invented Childline. On the other hand, Childline would not have been able to achieve national impact if its founder Jeroo Billimoria had not been able to enlist the government’s support.
Husock also describes College Summit misleadingly as an illustration of “the effective privatization of social services.” But College Summit works closely with and receives funding from the federal department of education and the public school systems in a number of cities. Its founder, J.B. Schramm, has made a conscious decision not to try to build a parallel college guidance system outside the public schools, but rather to work closely with public schools to rebuild the guidance system from within.
Social entrepreneurs are more inventive than governments when it comes to solving problems. But governments still have a significant role to play in scaling up and legitimizing their work. As Husock notes, social entrepreneurs often respond to government failures by creating parallel tracks, but equally often, they demonstrate new models that improve the performance of public institutions.
Howard Husock replies: David Bornstein is correct to say that some of the organizations he profiles in How to Change the World either receive some limited funding from government or in some ways cooperate with government. Neither undermines the fact that a great many of the organizations he describes are providing services which had been financed and provided by the public sector—and doing a better job of it. If he dislikes an alleged “anti-government” bias in the review, Bornstein should advance his own, normative view of what the relationship between the governmental and nonprofit sectors ought to be. Instead, he says, in essence, that a lot of people have started a lot of new organizations doing a lot of worthwhile things. O.K., but what does it mean? I tried to come up with my answer to that question. If he doesn’t like mine, he ought to advance his own.