A few years ago, Muhammad Yunus—the world’s leading social entrepreneur, founder of the revolutionary Grameen Bank, pioneer of microﬁnance, and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize— described his breed to us as “70 percent crazy.” It’s extraordinary how often his fellow entrepreneurs have told us that they have been called crazy by the media, by colleagues, by friends, and even by family members. But they are crazy like the proverbial fox. They look for—and often ﬁnd—solutions to insoluble problems in the unlikeliest places. They are driven by a passion to expand business thinking to reach people in need. Thus, many are pioneering and helping map out future markets where most of us would only see nightmarish problems and risk.
Consider Orlando Rincón Bonilla and his nonproﬁt model designed to bootstrap poor communities into the twenty-ﬁrst century. Mention his native Colombia, and the drug cartels, guerillas, and paramilitary are among the ﬁrst things that come to mind. A youngster growing up poor in this beautiful Andean country might seem to have only those three options before him. But Colombia is nothing if not a country of contrasts, and it was in the very barrios that feed criminal activity that Rincón was born.
One of ten siblings from a poor family in Cali, he grew up feeling the sting of both poverty and exclusion.6 As a teenager, he became a leftist activist and joined a youth organization run through his neighborhood church. The priest named him president of the association, but Rincón refused to even set foot in the building. He didn’t want to be constrained by organizational expectations, including those of the Catholic Church. Instead, the group met in the park— the center of community life. His political activism soon earned him a reputation. It also cost him a place at the public university but, in the process, opened up other opportunities. He won a scholarship and attended the University of Medellín, which was particularly surprising given that, as a private university, it was geared to educate the sons of the elite, most of them businessmen.