Backgrounder: David Bornstein

David Bornstein believes in the importance of fresh ideas and the people who wield these ideas to spur social change throughout the world.

An author and journalist, Bornstein has spent the past decade writing about the struggles and successes of these social entrepreneurs. In his 2004 book, How to Change the World: Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Bornstein chronicled one such story, about a South African nurse whose innovative, home-based nursing service for AIDS patients has transformed the way in which communities throughout South Africa’s Gauteng province care for their terminally ill.

“Social entrepreneurs have a profound effect on society, yet their corrective function remains poorly understood and underappreciated,” Bornstein writes in his book, which profiles nine social entrepreneurs who developed ground-breaking ways to address needs they saw in their communities. For example, Jeroo Billimoria has provided millions of children in India with a 24-hour, toll-free telephone hotline that connects callers to a network of child-service organizations. Billimoria’s hotline makes it possible for ordinary citizens, police, and social workers to help children who are in danger or in need.

Though each of the social entrepreneurs whom Bornstein profiled comes from a different background, he noted that they have one thing in common. “They have an incredible tenacity, which I think comes both from a sense of outrage around injustice and an elongated view of time,” Bornstein said in a 2003 interview with Fast “They don't get tired of evangelizing for their cause over and over again.”

Bornstein’s first book, The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank, recounts the story of the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank’s “trickle-up,” “micro-credit” program, which makes small loans to poor people to give them business start-up money that they would otherwise never qualify to receive from a bank or would only receive with unreasonably high interest rates. Grameen’s program has inspired the creation of similar programs throughout the world and has helped to reshape international development policy. Bornstein’s book was a finalist, in 1996, for the Helen Bernstein New York Public Library Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. He also co-wrote the PBS documentary, To Our Credit, which focuses on micro-credit programs in five countries. In addition, he has published his work in The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times.

Bornstein received a Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill University and a Master of Arts degree in journalism from New York University. He is at work on a new book about social innovations in the U.S. and Canada.

Alexandra Zendrian is a second-semester graduate student at NYU, where she is studying newspaper journalism.