Five Сlassics to Read if You Plan on Becoming a Social Entrepreneur

For this weekend’s reading we have prepared something special: a review of five books (three fiction and two non-fiction) written by some of the best known names in literature. If you plan on engaging in philanthropy and good works or even becoming a social entrepreneur, but you’re tired of reading “dry” literature that provides you with artificial steps on how to become successful and make the world a better place - dive into these five works of literature that focus on the actual humanistic importance of the work you plan on doing.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith (1759)

Adam Smith is probably best known as the father of modern economics. But in his essays, he questions the interaction between wealth and people and measures the meaning and the value of money in these relationships. In that sense, he is one of the founders of behavioral economics. He tries to explain the natural need of human beings to help others and to overcome their selfish interests:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

You can read it online here.

What Then Must We Do? by Leo Tolstoy (1886)

Leo Tolstoy is best known for his masterpieces – War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But if you are looking for a more direct approach, sharper criticism or just a more outspoken Tolstoy, try reading this excellent piece. Here the author discusses the main social issues in the Russia of his own time, the hypocrisy and social inequalities and the disingenuous posturing of the wealthy to appear, at least, to give a hand to the less fortunate. He talks about the necessity of this kind of communication between the social classes while criticizing the rich; and he makes you think about the importance of providing real help and overcoming your ego:

I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible…except by getting off his back.

You can read it online here.

Les misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)

In this novel Hugo discusses the possibility of change, on the personal and individual level, but also on a wider level – of a certain collective. You should bear in mind the character of Jean Valjean, a person with a criminal history, but one who has managed to transform himself into a care giver and a well-doer. The book reflects the social injustices of 19th century France, but Hugo points out that it is written not only for French people but for everyone, because – social problems go beyond frontiers. Hugo points out two main problems through the narrative of the story, and those two problems are the ones that social entrepreneurs face too:

First problem. To produce wealth. Second problem. To distribute it. […] Are you afraid of the good you might do?

You can read it online here.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

One of the novel’s themes is the great issue of racism. Harper Lee witnessed many acts of racism while she was growing up in Alabama. For many, Atticus Finch (the main character in the novel) has become a model of the lawyer as righteous citizen, sustained by his integrity and defending the truth as well as serving it. His life can inspire others to fight for what they believe in and help those who cannot fight for their own rights.

Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.

So, get engaged, because this is the only world we have.

You can read it online here.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

The works of Charles Dickens were fully engaged in the social issues of his time. Dickens observed injustice in the relationship between the social classes and in the sharp contrasts in their well-being. His criticism was harsh and was directed at good deeds that weren’t actually good deeds, per se: the rich used philanthropy to promote themselves and didn’t actually care about the poor. This kind of quick fix, Dickens believed, didn’t make underlying problems disappear. Using wit, irony and sarcasm, Dickens stigmatized this kind of behavior and pointed out the real need was to dismantle the barriers and offer real help.

The story of David Copperfield is partly an autobiographical novel and a layered one, too. Find your motivation in the story:

My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.

The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.

You can read it online here.

Becoming a social entrepreneur demands a whole lot of time and determination; it is not about the money and the profit: money is just an instrument, not a goal. It is about finding a way to overcome obstacles in order to provide the less fortunate or the ones whose voices cannot be heard – with what they need; making the world a better place, in an innovative and sustainable way. So, dive into some of these books and find your inspiration!

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