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A Food Fight that Could Change a Country

By Nell Edgington

It seems that social entrepreneurship has come to mainstream America, at least mainstream television. ABC recently launched a new show that provides an on-the-ground look at what a social entrepreneur experiences as they work towards big change.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution which airs Friday nights on ABC is a fascinating look at one social entrepreneur’s journey to “create a food fight that could change a country.”  Formerly The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver has in recent years become obsessed with changing the way people eat.  He started in his home country of England convincing the government there to completely revamp their public school food program, doing away with processed foods in favor of healthier, more natural meals for their children.

Now he’s come to America, specifically Huntington, West Virginia, determined by the Centers for Disease Control to be the most unhealthy city in America, to revolutionize how that city eats.  His goal is to alter the current trend of high rates of obesity, diabetes, untimely deaths.  He is starting with the school system and along the way waging big fights with the school cooks, the local radio DJ and many other disbelievers.

I find two things fascinating about this show. First, it gives viewers a clear understanding of the drama, the ups and downs, the process of building support for the change a social entrepreneur seeks. As David Bornstein put it:

An important social change frequently begins with a single entrepreneurial author:  one obsessive individual who sees a problem and envisions a new solution, who takes the initiative to act on that vision, who gathers resources and builds organizations to protect and market that vision, who provides the energy and sustained focus to overcome the inevitable resistance, and who – decade after decade – keeps improving, strengthening, and broadening that vision until what was once a marginal idea has become a new norm.

The social entrepreneur is the person who continuously fights through the resistance, the hurdles, the blank stares, the vehement objections until what was once crazy, becomes obvious.

Jamie Oliver is this social entrepreneur.  He has a huge vision and a methodical plan for bringing that vision to reality. He wants to change the way America eats.  And he’s starting with one school in one city in America, slowly building support for his new vision. He finds a group of high school kids who all have personal experience with the dangers of unhealthy eating and forms them into a group of evangelists building support for change among their peers, their relatives, and eventually leaders of the community.

Each week we see the struggles that a social entrepreneur encounters when they are trying to move people, communities, institutions toward big change. It is a thankless struggle, but typical of the social entrepreneur, the pitfalls energize, instead of demoralize, Jamie.  With each setback he is more and more determined that he is on the right path.

The second thing that is interesting to me is that a social entrepreneur is being chronicled in the main-stream media. The idea that someone with a big plan for solving a big problem makes it to prime-time television is really exciting. We’ll see if the ratings, and thus the profit margin, hold up enough to keep it in the mainstream. I’m  hoping so.

So, if you want to see a social entrepreneur on the front lines and be inspired by their vision, commitment, passion and ability to build momentum around an idea, check out Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC tonight.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

Friday, April 9th, 2010 Innovators, Social Entrepreneurship

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