Social Entrepreneurship

Any successful entrepreneur with high visibility will be drawn into social entrepreneurship initiatives in his, or her, community.  People who run such organizations are always on the look out for likely candidates.  Often the candidate will be asked to host a fundraising event or be on the Board of an organization, or both.  Sometimes the entrepreneur will be asked to Chair the organization or even create a new one.  However, social organizations are much different than corporate organizations.  A management style that worked for the entrepreneur in the corporate world doesn’t necessarily work in the social world.  While focusing on the real  problems facing a social organization in a determined and entrepreneurial way works in both worlds, people who serve on Boards of social organizations, or the people who work for them, are not the entrepreneur’s employees.  In many cases, they are very accomplished individuals in their own right and, often, with very sensitive egos.  In a way it’s much more of a social experience than a corporate one, and the corporate entrepreneur has to proceed cautiously because there are many forces at play.

In my case, it was very helpful that my wife, Diddy, became a partner in many of my social entrepreneurship initiatives.  For example, we would co-chair each event.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t done at the time.  She, in turn, would go on to create her own social entrepreneurship initiatives such as Black & White Boston to bring both communities together in a social setting such as business breakfasts, lunches, dinners and golf tournaments.  The goal was to create more opportunities for Black-owned businesses.  It was also very important that we had my long time Assistant, Martha Burnham, available to help us with these events. She was invaluable in this regard since there often is much work to be done.  Thus, the advice I would give to any entrepreneur moving into the social arena for the first time would be as follows:

Existing Organization:

  • Tread lightly.  This is not your company.  These are not your employees.
  • Encourage the creation of a good sales message for the organization with Board members participating.  It will get everyone on board with what the organization is selling, to whom and why they should donate, including the development staff.  It will also rejuvinate the enthusiasm for the organization of long time Board members.
  • Make it clear that your focus is on getting things done, fast. Fifty percent of the Board will really like this because that’s why they are there in the first place.  However, it will make the other fifty percent quite nervous because they are not used to actually having to do something.
  • Find ways to reach out to “new” money. Always need new money. Most social organizations rely on “old” money which is a big mistake.
  • Bring in new people who are interested in what the organization does as part of the above.
  • Make Board meetings and events enjoyable because many attendees consider them social events not business meetings.

Idea for Creating a New Organization:

  • Prepare Main Message focused on the interests of potential donors.
  • Ask them to sign non-binding Letters of Intent.
  • Proceed as in any entrepreneurial venture.

A note of caution, creating a new social organization can be just as difficult as creating a corporate one, but for different reasons.

The following are some of the related social entrepreneurship activities:

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

As the first President of the newly created John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Cullinane was tasked with creating a new organization, regenerating interest in the Library, and raising a $20 million endowment for this high visibility organization.

Visit to John F. Kennedy Library by Nelson Mandela on his first trip to the United States with John Cullinane as Master of Ceremonies (video)

John Cullinane, Irishman of the Year Award by the Friends of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation (video)

Nelson Mandela visits JFK Library after 27 years in prison – greeted by Senator Kennedy and Stevie Wonder with John Cullinane, MC of the event, in the background.

The Boston Public Library Foundation

As Founding Chair, John Cullinane created the Foundation and recruited its first Board of Directors. The original goal was to raise $17 million dollars for restoration of the Boston Public Library’s Copley Square Branch, a government owned building, which made it a very difficult undertaking. With the help of his wife, Diddy, he dramatically increased the awareness of the great importance of the Boston Public Library to the community by moving it from below the radar to the jewel in the crown of Boston’s great institutions. The Foundation has since raised in excess of $80 million for the Library.

“Boston Public Library Centennial,” produced and written by Diddy Cullinane, narrated by Julie Harris and filmed by WCVB-TV Channel 5

Telethon – “The Boston Public Library – It Speaks Volumes” (video)

The Hon. William Bulger, UMASS President, Emeritus, and great supporter of libraries, his wife, Mary, and Diddy and John Cullinane at Boston Public Library Gala

Peace in Northern Ireland Through Jobs

Hosting Event for Gerry Adams on his first visit to Boston, per request of Senator Edward Kennedy (l-r) Vicki Kennedy, John Cullinane, Gerry Adams,
Diddy Cullinane and Senator Edward Kennedy

Northern Ireland:  The Prospects for a Resolution to the Conflict, John F. Kennedy School, Harvard University (video)

Public-Partnerships in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, John Cullinane and Dr. Frank Costello, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (podcast)

The Clinton Administration and Economic Investment in Northern Ireland (paper)

President William Clinton video “Days Like This” of his first trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he introduced two of John Cullinane’s job creating initiatives, including an Irish BIRD (Binational Industrial Research & Development Foundation) (video)

John Cullinane, President William Clinton and John’s good friend, Paul Birmingham, at The White House

Irish BIRD (Binational Industrial Research & Development Foundation) Questions & Answers (paper)

Irish International Immigrant Center’s Solas Award to President William J. Clinton for his efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland (video)

Friends of Belfast

Friends of Belfast meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland
(l-r) Then City Councillor Alasdair McDonnell, Dr. Frank Costello, peace activist,
Belfast Lord Mayor Hugh Smyth, Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino,
John Cullinane and John Cullinane Jr.

John Cullinane recommended that the City of Belfast create the Friends of Belfast to help outreach and networking for the City in the United States. The purpose was to help secure the jobs that would lead to peace in Northern Ireland. However, when the City had difficulty doing it, he did it for them. Dr. Frank Costello would later create chapters in New York City, Pittsburgh and Denver.  The Friends would be effective in uniting both Catholics and Protestants, in a common goal of peace in Northern Ireland through jobs.

University of Ulster, John Cullinane Honorary Degree Ceremony, John F. Kennedy Library (video)

Laying of wreath over SS Laurentic, ship lost in WWI off Northern Ireland with Walter Fitzgerald, John Cullinane’s Uncle, on board (video)

The Lautentic Legacy – Walter Fitzgerald

John Cullinane, Diddy Cullinane, and the great Irish benefactor,
former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, whose family homestead and a
monument dedicated to him are located near Buncranna where many
of those who perished on the SS Laurentic are buried.

Peace in the Middle East

During the past ten years, John, along with Israeli pioneer, Dan Singer, and Geoffrey Lewis, a leading member of the American Jewish community, have endeavored to use the Northern Ireland experience as a model for peace in the Middle East.  This included a conference on the subject hosted by the University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with key participants from Israel, Palestine and the United States.  The group has also put forth a number of practical initiatives, such as how to create 20,000 call center jobs in the Middle East.  Jobs were critical to peace in Northern Ireland.  There has to be an economic benefit for any peace agreement to work.  The Aspen Institute Middle East Strategy Group, which John was a member of, actually bought into this idea and arranged for one in Gaza. However, the situation unraveled there before it was implemented.  The group feels that there are major benefits for Israel to “ending the conflict,” such as a huge economic benefit and a great reduction in the tensions for the Jewish Diaspora, worldwide, as Israel fulfills its Biblical prophecy as a “light unto the world.”  In the process, the group met with key participants in the peace initiatives, including such dignitaries as King Abdullah II of Jordan and Frank Lowenstein, Special Envoy for Israel-Palestinian Negotiations for then Secretary of State John Kerry.  The following is a memorandum John presented to Frank Lowenstein in Washington, D.C., with ideas from the group that he responded to very enthusiastically and that remain just as valid today.

Memo to Frank Lowenstein (document)

Peace in Middle East (video)

Catholic Schools Foundation

John Cullinane initiated an entrepreneurial effort to “wire” the poorest Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Boston for the Internet.  Something like this had never been done in the Archdiocese before and the Sisters in charge were very nervous. It was funded by the government’s very imaginative E-rate program which helps the poorest schools, first.  In addition, numerous Greater Boston companies contributed consulting, computers, software, etc., to the effort, which was all organized by Don McInnis.  It was enormously successful as these very poor, inner city schools, became state of the art in computer technology.  It had a major positive impact on the morale of both students and teachers.


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