Florence Nightingale: An Entrepreneur?


I’m reading ‘How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas’ by David Bornstein and, I’m only a few chapters in, but HAD to put it aside (temporarily!) to let you know about how amazing this book is. While there’s a lot to love about this book so far, perhaps the most striking takeaway so far is how an entrepreneur is defined. It’s a definition I’ve long agreed with, and seems so often forgotten in today’s world where Start Ups and the ‘Entrepreneur’ culture have just become the hip thing to do.

“According to the management expert Peter F. Drucker, the term ‘entrepreneur’ (from the French, meaning ‘one who undertakes’) was introduced two centuries ago by the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say to characterise a special economic actor – not someone who simply opens a business, but someone who ‘shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.’ The twentieth-century growth economist Joseph A. Schumpeter characterised the entrepreneur as the source of the ‘creative destruction’ necessary for major economic advances.”


One thing that has been really bugging me is how every man and their dog is calling themselves an ‘entrepreneur’. It’s become such a buzz-word that it seems to have lost meaning with tonnes of ‘entrepreneurs’ out there making things that we don’t need and that don’t improve anyone’s lives. You see countless of them at start-up conferences creating things like dating apps. If I see another dating app, I’m going to smack someone.

What I find so frustrating is that you obviously see that people have the determination to create. They have the means, the will power, the motivation & the skill to do so. And then, they go hard at work, find partners and funding and they channel all of that energy in to creating…. another dating/social media/insert-buzz-word app.

If driven people like these applied their minds to one of the many significant social challenges we currently face, I can only imagine the amazing impact they might have. The social sector is craving innovation. To reach new levels of effectiveness and impact, we’ll need to see people with different skill sets from outside the sector to do what they do best, and create.

What I love about this book so far is that every chapter profiles a different person and their challenges and successes. It shows that entrepreneurs can come in different shapes and forms and can use their variety of skills to change things in different ways.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

Take Florence Nightingale. I just finished a chapter on how she revolutionised the way the British military looked at health and, through her subsequent leadership and game-changing ideas, single-handedly caused the mortality rate of soldiers to decrease in 1855 from 43% to 2% in less than three months.

Her solution that drove this massive improvement and saved countless lives? She made them clean. Turned out that most deaths were occurring due to poor sanitation habits by the soldiers. Don’t be fooled though, sometimes the biggest/ most difficult problems have the simplest of solutions. Of course, in the case of the British military in the 1800’s, you won’t see any results unless you also have someone intelligent enough to realise what it is, yet strong and determined enough to enforce it. THAT is the entrepreneur.

“Yet her heroism was not of that simple sort so dear to the readers of novels and the compilers of hagiologies – the romantic sentimental heroism with which mankind loves to invest its chosen darlings; it was made of sterner stuff… It was not by gentle sweetness and womanly self-abnegation that she had brought order out of chaos in the Scutari Hospitals, that, from her own resources she had clothed the British Army, that she had spread her dominion over the serried and reluctant powers of the official world; it was by strict method, by stern discipline, by rigid attention to detail, by ceaseless labour, by the fixed determination of an indomitable will.”

I highly recommend this book.

“To sum up, more people today have the freedom, time, wealth, health, exposure, social mobility, and confidence to address social problems in bold new ways.”