Learning Laboratory

by J. Gregory Dees

Social entrepreneurs bring private resources, ingenuity, determination, business skills, and, in some cases, deep local knowledge to the problems that hold societies back. They innovate, test, and refine new approaches. Their successes and failures, once identified, are a source of valuable information about what works and what doesn’t. These social endeavors form a living—and vastly underutilized—learning laboratory for development innovation. We have a long way to go before governments and development institutions take full advantage of this creative problem-solving activity. But as rigorous assessment becomes more common, we can begin to identify which solutions are effective and have the potential to scale up and learn what we can from those ideas that looked promising but failed to deliver cost-effective results.

Finance & Development 49(4): 14-17, 2012