Driving Social Change

Julie Battilana
Job Title
Associate Professor, Harvard Business School
Boston, MA, USA


I’ve always been interested in public sector issues and what we call “institutional change,” especially change that breaks with the accepted norms. I studied the English National Health Service, focusing on those individuals who were looking for new ways to implement the public sector reforms that were being proposed by Tony Blair’s Labor government. The challenge is trying to explain to people why they should do things differently in a deeply institutionalized system—a lot like today’s healthcare reform in the United States. At the same time—this was 2001—I was becoming aware that Social Enterprise was gaining visibility outside of the nonprofit sector and in the private sector.

Driving Social Change

One way to think about Social Enterprise is that social entrepreneurs often have to implement changes that break with the norms in their environment. The types of organizations that I’m interested in are those trying to combine social development logic with commercial logic in an innovative way. In the case of commercial microfinance organizations, they are breaking with the archetypal banks and breaking with the archetypal NGOs. They are trying to develop a “third model.” The challenges they face are very exciting, especially at a time when we are looking at reforms in our economic system. My question is, “Under what conditions can these hybrid organizations be sustainable?” We need to address these questions from an organizational perspective.


We recently completed a study of two Bolivian banks—Los Andes and Banco Sol—that compared the differences between an “apprenticeship” model and one that relied on communicating a shared mission to more experienced employees. The results are helping employees of both companies understand why one achieved faster success than the other. And we are working with Echoing Green to studying the profiles of social entrepreneurs so we can understand how the profiles change over time and trends in the kinds of projects that they pursue. I believe that over the last five years, the aspirations of the students at have changed—they’re asking themselves more questions. I see more and more students at HBS who are interested in Social Enterprise.