Like many startups, nonprofits, and social enterprises, many businesses are adopting a mission-driven philosophy of driving social good. For many organizations and highly prominent individuals, doing good should be “baked into” their corporate mission. As Anand Giriharadas argues in Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, this attitude can inadvertently perpetuate the very systems they are looking to change, and his arguments make Winners Take All a must-read for any socially-minded mission-driven organization or individual.

Despite the book’s subtitle, Winners Take All takes a well-mannered, thoughtful approach to its arguments. As Giriharadas explains throughout the book, many organizations and individuals taking a “business” approach to driving social good often rely on tactics and thinking that not only lack awareness of deeper systemic issues, but avoid engaging the greater community and can exacerbate certain problems. Many of the “social elite” (consisting of higher level businesses and individuals) focus more on superficial changes than handling deeper, systemic issues, and this approach “treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us” . Adopting problem-solving strategies that provide business-friendly results, those organizations and individuals looking to drive social change avoid acknowledging or addressing greater systemic issues…or even worse, remaining silent about acknowledging their own complicity and/or responsibility for addressing those issues

Winners Take All supports its criticism with some exceptional examples and well-reasoned arguments. Discussing a variety of issues ranging from philanthropy to new business models, Giriharadas provides sharp insights without ever descending into derision. With its matter-of-fact prose and succinct, descriptive manner, Winners Take All manages to highlight concerns without condemning those involved. One great example is how Giriharadas discusses the Sackler family’s involvement with philanthropy as they fostered the opioid crisis, as recently featured on Last Week With John Oliver:


Moving from the microcosm of TED Talks to the larger view of globalism, Winners Take All advocates a strong case against the prevailing belief that “what’s good for business is good for greater society.” In a business landscape that is becoming more focused on greater social benefit, there is also a greater need for introspection and honest self-exploration about their own potential complicity in fostering systemic issues. Such introspection and self-inventory, Girharadas argues in Winners Take All, is a critical step that needs to happen to ensure success…and that many organizations seem unwilling to take.

Many nonprofits, social enteprises, and mission-driven businesses – both within and outside of Chicago – should consider reading Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World as part of their strategic planning processs. Many individuals looking to drive social change should also read Anand Giriharadas’ book as well. Fostering social change is not an easy process, and Winners Take All provides an exceptional argument for self-inventory, introspection, and awareness. Highly recommended.

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As always, thanks for reading!

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