I've been thinking a lot about the intersections of the market, public policy and philanthropy. This has been going on for a long time, but I've been doing a lot of thinking in the last few days. These posts from yesterday and December 2006 show one line of my thinking - on the dangers of raising expectations about the potential of market solutions for social problem-solving.
Because I am traveling I didn't get a chance to read the NYT until last evening. So imagine my surprise to finish my day - including the blogging, pick up the Times, and discover that Nicholas Kristof and I agree on something. His column about social entrepreneurs has some simply awe-inspiring anecdotes about what some of these individuals are accomplishing.
Of course, it is the very juxtaposition of these entrepreneurs with the rest of the 'machers' of Davos that feeds my concern about unrealistic expectations and confusion about roles. (Thank God; the thought that I might really agree with Kristof made me need to sit down). Kristof mocks the abundance of policy leaders at the World Economic Forum but the setting makes my point clear: for all the phenomenal work that individuals and networks of social entrepreneurs can accomplish it is critical that the public sector do its part to redress the individual injustices and the context which creates them.
So, imagine my relief to find another Times article on an economist, Professor Dani Rodrik of Harvard. Rodrik may be committing professional heresy by focusing on research that shows that international trade policies need to be about more than just costs, wages, and tariffs. They they need to actively promote 'social insurance' policies as well. As Rodrik puts it, "...social insurance and free trade are "two sides of the same coin.""
Rodrik's work is beginning to influence policy wonks from Robert Rudin to Bill Clinton to those whose political careers still lie ahead of them. Maybe we could add Rodrik to the list of social entrepreneurs, because with changes of the kind he proposes along with the incredible work of the Gillian Caldwells, Nic Frances, and Isaac Durojaiyes of the world, we might actually get somewhere. Somewhere better, that is.