16 Must-Read Social Entrepreneurship Books, According to These Experienced Innovators

So you want to change the world.

We’re right there with you. But this impulse is easier to feel than it is to execute, isn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a manual we could follow to solve the world’s myriad problems once and for all?

Until we find such a masterwork, we’ve assembled a syllabus ourselves by gathering recommended titles from social entrepreneurs, mission-driven innovators, and industry experts in the global CIC community.

Whether you’re a seasoned executive open to fresh strategies to expand your company’s impact or a recent college graduate looking to integrate your ideals and your work life, there are lessons new and old to be learned about how to use our 40 (or more) hour work weeks to chip away at seemingly never-ending societal challenges.

From technical guides to paradigm shifters to stories of success and failures along the way, these books specifically look at various aspects of how to do business with a purpose and how to spark change through entrepreneurship.

1. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

This book is a great way to kick off our list not only because of its fitting title (get it??), but also because it is one of the most frequently recommended books we heard about from our clients and our own team members.

Appearing in its most simplified form as a TED Talk, Start With Why is an entire philosophy that, according to Sinek, accounts for the difference between highly successful companies and the rest. Whether you’re in the business of ending world hunger or selling widgets, the reason you do what you do must guide the way you communicate your message. Because your sense of purpose, the “why,” is what inspires people to take action.

2. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

If you want to build a social impact business, you can’t get around the fact that you need to build a solid, sustainable business. This book will teach you how to do that from vision to minimum viable product to scale in specific yet inspiring terms. One of the definitive texts for innovators, Chris Adamo, Chief Business Officer of media company WhereBy.Us, calls The Lean Startup “essential for the building blocks of a social enterprise.”

3. Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Written by the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and pioneer of the microcredit model, this book is a go-to for Wafaa Arbash, CEO of refugee employment startup WorkAround. Corporations, entrepreneurs, and social activists alike have embraced social business as a way of harnessing capitalism to benefit consumers and communities, not just shareholders. Yunus shows how to make an economically viable enterprise out of a useful solution to societal challenges.

4. Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Recommended by the editors of BookBub, Start Something That Matters is the author’s story of creating TOMS Shoes, a brand that pioneered the for-profit, charity retail model by giving a pair of shoes away for every pair purchased. According to BookBub, this book is for you if “you want to love your work, work for what you love, and have a positive impact on the world—all at the same time.”

5. The Innovation Blindspot: Why We Back the Wrong Ideas and What To Do About It by Ross Baird

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

For Paula Cohen, Principal Consultant at Knowledge for Impact, Baird’s book on finding ideas hiding in plain sight is a must-read: “It might seem like we’re in a golden age of entrepreneurship, but a vast number of ideas are being left on the table. There are untapped industries (only 15 percent of billion-dollar companies are in the most important industries); overlooked places (more than 75 percent of venture capital goes to just three US metro areas); and under-valued people (less than five percent of startup investment goes to women, and less than one percent goes to African-Americans and Latinos).”

The good news? Our world is filled with smart people with smart ideas. They just need to be heard and supported. Baird outlines a vision for doing just that.

6. EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Once you have a vision, how do you get where you want to go? This is your playbook for taking action...and that includes making mistakes. But you won’t be alone—Ramsey shares his own pitfalls over the course of over 20 years in business.

Annie Wang, Co-Founder, CPO, and Creative Director of Her Campus Media, found this book when she was searching for leadership resources that were both inspiring and super practical. “Ramsey provides relevant examples and rules of thumb for dealing with challenges that entrepreneurs face at each milestone and growth stage of their businesses, from hiring and firing to structuring comp packages,” she says.

Just as importantly, this book covers the importance of the human element business for those, like Wang, who believe that “leadership is fundamentally a call to serve and an opportunity to be mission-driven in the very way you run your team,” she says.

7. The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems by William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

“It’s important for businesses and social entrepreneurs to see the big picture and the power of the right synergistic partners,” says Jonathan Fichman of the Venture Mentoring Team. “This book shows real examples of incredible cross-sector collaborations and the new trends within them that really move the needle on some of the most challenging issues of our time.”

8. The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook: Pressure Test, Plan, Launch and Scale Your Enterprise by Ian C. MacMillan and James D. Thompson

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

When you’re ready to dive into the nitty gritty of building a social enterprise, pick up MacMillan and Thompson’s guide. “This is a highly practical book, while most on the subject are theoretical or inspirational,” says Fichman. “This book provides a real play-by-play that integrates relevant case studies.”

9. New Power: How Power Works In Our Hyperconnected World – and How To Make It Work For You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Tims

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Alia Mahmoud, Director of social impact accelerator Radical Partners, calls this title “a timely and poignant observation of how power has shifted from the few at the top to the collective at the bottom.” The authors lay out a framework of old versus new power: old power functions by owning resources or controlling the means by which information spreads, while new power functions through a critical mass of ordinary people. “Any business should recognize this, honor it, and build around this new structure of power,” says Mahmoud.

10. Civic Tech: Making Technology Work For People by Andrew Schrock

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

There’s a staggering amount of money to be made on technological developments right now. But technology by whom and for whom?

One answer to this is the Civic Tech movement, which emerged in response to social inequality and sought solutions through technologies that facilitated engagement between communities and government. “This book is a story of the people behind the movement and uses interviews and stories to ask important questions about where Civic Tech is going,” says Matthew Zagaja of Code for Boston. “Andrew’s style is easy to read and is a great introduction for people who are new to the Civic Tech movement.”

The book is available for free download.

11. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Social entrepreneurship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. This New York Times Bestseller is an entry point into critical examination of the social and political structures that are the context for impact-driven work.

In today’s tech-driven economy, Alia Mahmoud of Radical Partners suggests this as a useful title for “what it means to invest in security/surveillance technologies and sectors” by “understanding racism in the criminal justice system, policing, for-profit prisons, the effects of the racial wealth gap, and intergenerational poverty.”

12. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Do you give more than you take, take more than you give, or give and take equally? And does the answer matter for your professional outcomes? Grant, an award-winning researcher and Wharton School professor, lays out an argument for the reciprocity model that is most closely linked to success. This book, recommended by Theramart CEO Victor Leal, can help you consider how to approach collaboration as a social entrepreneur and may even inform your conception of giving while trying to help the world.

13. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

What’s enchantment got to do with business? For author Guy Kawasaki, the most powerful way to sell something is not through coercion, trickery, or pressure, but rather through facilitating another person’s delight such that they willfully and joyfully seek out what you have to offer. Not only that, but enchantment is most sorely needed when trying to convince someone of an idea that feels idealistic, defies the crowd, or overcomes entrenched habits—the exact situations you’ll find yourself in when you’re trying to improve the world.

Recommended by CIC Miami Coworking Principal Jose Medina, this book explains the emotional and psychological basis for our need to be enchanted and shows you how to do so effectively and ethically.

14. The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive In the Age of Populism by Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

“Power now belongs to the problem solvers,” write Katz and Nowak in this recommendation from Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, General Manager of CIC Miami. It’s a rousing motto for ambitious social entrepreneurs flexing their problem-solving skills professionally for the greater good. Compiling examples from across the globe, this book shows how innovations in technology and new collaborations between public, private, and civic leadership can empower cities to create economic, social, and environmental improvements that will pave the way for the future.

15. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose  by Tony Hseih

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Workplace culture comes first for Zappos.com CEO Tony Hseih. According to Hseih, creating happiness at work isn’t icing on the cake, it is the cake. Happier workers lead to more profitable businesses via higher worker retention, increased productivity, and stronger collaboration within and between teams. Hseih took this approach with his own company, which debuted on Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For list and was acquired by Amazon in a $1.2B deal in the same year.

“This was probably the first book I read in the late 2000s that changed my outlook on my job and the roles I would go on to take in my life,” says WhereBy.Us’s Chris Adamo. “When you put the mission first and instill that in your employees, profits do tend to follow.”

16. Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? by Seth Godin

  Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

We all have the capacity to make an impact in our workplaces and communities, the author believes, but there are barriers or fears that hold us back from meeting this potential. Godin shows how to identify what you uniquely have to offer and how to materialize it. “I believe this is one of the most inspiring books about how to increase your value, make your career more resilient, and feel happier in your work,” says Stephen Warley, Founder of Life Skills That Matter. This confidence and skill are key in getting your fearless idea of the ground as an entrepreneur or working within an existing organization to make a difference.


Conclusion

We all know entrepreneurship is time-intensive, often leaving minimal free time for reading. So nobody expects you to tackle an entire book list before you finally get to work on your brilliant social business idea.

These recommendations, whether consumed in small chunks or revisited over time, can supply you with priceless inspiration and instruction to envision, launch, or scale your social venture.