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Arguing in Public – A Three Act Play




I’m sitting in the boardroom with our new comms ninja, Elmira Bayrasli (aka Wonderment Woman, aka @endeavoringE).  We’re making a list of the 329 things we want to accomplish now that PDT is actually building  a communications team.  As we wrap up, I say “Wait, there’s one more thing. We argue a lot in PDT, amongst ourselves, and I’d like to be more transparent about that.  There’s no unified “PDT view” on aid and peacekeeping.  We’re constantly debating this stuff and I think it’s silly that organizations like ours pretend otherwise.”  Elmira looks at me with a big grinning gleam in her eye.


90 Minutes Later

I’ve slipped out of the office, snow is starting to fall as I walk past past the lions at the New York Public Library and into the HSBC building to attend a salon talk.  The topic is entrepreneurship, the host is the Turkish Women’s International Network, and the speaker is none other than Elmira.  Her speech is dangerously captivating. It occurs to me halfway through that I’m grateful she’s on our side.  Elmira’s thesis is that entrepreneurship in Turkey is changing the country and demonstrating heretofore unknown possibilities for the next generation of Turks.  The audience eats it up.

In the question and answer period, two people ask variations of the same question: “Are there differences between social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in the private sector?”  Elmira’s responses can be summarized as follows:

1.     Social entrepreneurship is very different.

2.     NGOs and charities should not be run like businesses.

3.     The development industry does not need any MBAs

<Cue sound effect>


The Morning After

The lions are now buried in snow and someone has made a snowman on Madison avenue.  The doorman at our office is preposterously bundled in 7 layers of winter clothing.  On my desk is the list of 329 comms tasks and scribbled at the bottom is the handwritten notation: “air our differences”….


Dear Elmira,

To quote Ron Burgundy, Great story. Compelling and rich. However, I disagreed with your Q&A.

1.     I don’t think social entrepreneurs and “for-profit” entrepreneurs are that different. They both are seeking to a new and better solutions to existing problems, be it coffee-stained teeth or malaria.  They both have higher risk thresholds than other organizational leaders. Both need to be lateral thinkers, quick learners, and compelling communicators. I could go on, because I can’t think of a single characteristic that would not be shared between a successful entreprneur like Steve Jobs in Cupertino and a successful social entrepreneur like Geoffrey Canada in Harlem.

Steve Jobs? Geoffrey Canada? Same guy.

2.     NGOs should be run like businesses. A business’ primary mandate is always to maximize value.  An NGO strives to do the exact same thing. The only difference is that the “value” is defined differently. Instead of shareholder wealth, it’s social impact.  But underneath that, all the HR, accounting, marketing, planning, organizing challenges are the same.  In my own experience I get more useful advice reading the McKinsey Quarterly than I do reading the latest NGO newsletter.

3.     The development industry does need more MBAs, badly. In my experience, the single biggest deterrent to increasing the impact of our aid dollars is not a lack of dollars (which is why I think the 0.7 goal is bollocks), but a lack of efficiency in how we spend our existing budgets.  In the first half of the 20th century there was a revolution in the private sector. Business schools began pumping out MBAs who focused on metrics and efficiency and analysis.  In the second half of the century those MBAs began to migrate into the public sector and helped to reform governments and increase the impact of our tax dollars. I’m hoping that now the MBAs will provide the same assistance to the aid industry.  And while I agree with you that “development is complicated”, and would never suggest that only Harvard Business School grads should be running NGOs, I do think the Birkenstock set could use a little help.

Now, Elmira, I know you can rebut these points.  Why don’t you post a rejoinder and we’ll let the mob commenters pick a winner? Loser buys lunch at the Oyster Bar?

Your faithful servant,


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elmira Bayrasli, Philip Auerswald, Sean McDonald, David Peter Hansen and others. David Peter Hansen said: "NGOs should be run like businesses", argues @scott_gilmore. Couldn't agree more. […]

  2. Matthew Ramsden says:

    Can I vote now, or do I need to wait for Elmira’s response?

  3. […] non or for-profit. They are skills that help an organization focus on, as PDT founder Scott Gilmore says, “metrics, efficiency and analysis.” Metrics, efficiency and analysis are things that […]

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