The World that Changes the World

Chapter 0: Introduction

Figure 0.1 - a skeleton of the social ecosystem framework and shows how the individual chapters map onto it. Click to view larger format

Navigating the Social Ecosystem

The Editors

Lien Centre for Social Innovation

There are over three million social purpose organizations around the world, employing more than 48 million people, with a limited budget of US$1.9 trillion annually.1 It is a growing, but hugely fragmented, complex, and often confusing sector—with very diverse, at times divisive players—that is largely oriented toward the mission of changing society for the better, though not always in the ways of working with each other to achieve this goal.

What makes this world and its players tick? How are they likely to tick differently in the future? What would change the way they tick?

This book seeks to answer these questions.

A key reason for writing this book is that we have not found another that frames and describes the issues and trends of the social sector and its component parts in a holistic and complete manner. Of course, we realized that we, at the Lien Centre for Social Innovation,2 are vastly inadequate to address these issues ourselves. This is why we have brought together a distinguished group of thinkers, leaders, and experts in the various aspects of the social space to contribute to this undertaking.

As is evident from the book’s subtitle, we have used the paradigm of an ecosystem to frame the social world. In our view, a dynamic, interdependent, and sustaining ecosystem of living organisms provides the perfect model with which to analyze this ever-changing world. We have asked each author to provide his or her perspective on the status of a particular facet within the social ecosystem, and to highlight the issues, trends, and future scenarios that affect that facet. Figure 0.1 provides a skeleton of the social ecosystem framework and shows how the individual chapters map onto it.

Chapter 1 describes the social ecosystem framework while highlighting key issues and trends. This is followed by 14 chapters that detail the specific core players of the ecosystem (the Beneficiaries, Social Purpose Entities, and Capacity Builders) and the supporting roles played by the Community, Media, Government, and Regulator.

The next three chapters of the book examine the enablers of change in the ecosystem—namely Culture and Leadership, Technology, and Finance. Finally, the last three chapters explore the macro-trends of growth (Global Civil Society), social innovation (Social Innovation), and fusion of the sectors (The Phoenix Economy).

A consistent theme that emerges from these thought-provoking essays is the acute sense of change and vibrancy that infuses the social sector. This feeling of urgency has been with us throughout the gestation of this book—even as we began scouring the social smorgasbord to find kindred souls who were willing to share their passion, ideas, and thinking.

For all of us at the Lien Centre, producing this ambitious book has been a fulfilling, humbling, and exhilarating ride. We hope you will find the journey through the social ecosystem to be an equally enjoyable and invaluable experience.

End Notes

1 The figures provided in this paragraph are drawn from several sources. A fuller discussion of these numbers and their data sources can be found in the subsection on “Global Civil Society” and endnotes 42 and 43 in Chapter 1, “The Social Ecosystem: Transitions within the ecosystem of change,” by Willie Cheng.

2 The Lien Centre for Social Innovation is a partnership of the Lien Foundation and Singapore Management University. Its mission is to inspire ideas and innovations, foster new alliances, and facilitate solutions to strengthen the nonprofit sector. See