Combine Richard Branson’s determined business acumen with Mother Teresa’s passionate sense of social purpose and you have a description of today’s social entrepreneurs — mission-driven business leaders who prioritize social value over private wealth to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.
“Those are the kinds of people we try to interview, that we want to feature and spotlight,” said David Castro, founder and one of the hosts of the locally produced podcast “Innovate.”
Castro and his small team want to give more and early exposure to a wide range of change agents who are making positive and measurable impact.
“One of today’s deep problems is that everything on the media is bad news and this makes people cynical, discouraged and disengaged,” Castro said. “Unfortunately, this ‘bleed it leads‘ narrative becomes really toxic. Our show raises up really interesting people who are making progress in the face of problems.”
For example, in 2014, he interviewed Kailash Satyarthi, a human rights activist from India and founder of The Global March, the single largest civil-society network for exploited children; later that year, Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Malala Yousafzai.
Locally, Castro has interviewed Leonard Haas, board chair of the Wyncote Foundation, and Timothy Rub, CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as part of an ongoing Social Visionaries for the Arts series.
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Castro graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and did a stint in private practice, but it was his years with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office that shaped his views on social entrepreneurism.
“I was a young lawyer working with grassroots community leaders on neighborhood problems,” he said. “They were very inspiring people — selfless and great leaders who cared about neighborhoods. My job at the DA’s office was to support them and I became inspired.”
“Innovate” was launched in 2012 as a program of the Bryn Mawr-based Arch Street Press. The podcast is an outgrowth of Castro’s work as CEO of the Institute for Leadership, Education, Advancement & Development (I-LEAD), a training program for community leadership development which he founded in 1995.
Castro has also been named an Ashoka Fellow by the Ashoka Global Funds for Social Change, which puts him in touch with potential guests.
Castro said that his push for social entrepreneurism shouldn’t be read as a critique that the traditional nonprofit model has lost its effectiveness.
“You can’t say that nonprofits have failed. Throughout history nonprofits have played an important role to solve problems and they have created schools, hospitals, universities, various philanthropic organizations,” he said. “But there are a significant number of complicated problems that we continue to struggle with. There always seems to be something on fire. The problems we are encountering today are problems we couldn’t imagine in the ’80s.”
Enter: social entrepreneurship as a new tool to “push back against the status quo,” as Castro put it. Using the genesis stories of Microsoft and Apple and their transformative impact in the technology marketplace as examples, he said he sees that same type of creative energy being applied by social entrepreneurs to community problems around the world.
What’s next for “Innovate”?
“I really want to encourage innovators to tell their stories and exchange stories with one another,” Castro said. “When you hear about creative work I think there is cross fertilization and inspiration. And we want to build a library of those stories. You can learn a lot about how people encounter problems but still maintain inspiration.”-30-
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