Richard Steckel – the playful Social Entrepreneur

Social movements have many parents and the social enterprise movement is no exception.  The first social entrepreneur in Canada for example dates back to Mother D’Youville in the early 1700’s. The current manifestation of social enterprise is often attributed to Bill Drayton and Ashoka. Or the UK folks chronicled by Charles Leadbeater in The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur.  All have enlightened my work. But none more than Richard Steckel.

Richard rescued the Denver Children’s Museum from bankruptcy in the late 70’s using pioneering social enterprise strategies. He turned it into one of the most spectacular and thriving museums of its kind in the world.

On the cusRichard Steckel brought in exhibits and raised funds in a revolutionary way, a friend says.p of that success, he gave a workshop in Vancouver about something I had never heard of – social enterprise. I went thinking I’d gain an edge on another fundraising technique. I left understanding the difference between raising funds and earning income. I also gained a mentor and very quickly a dear friend.

Doing good isn’t good enough to become a successful social entrepreneur said Richard. Instead, he encouraged us to think about what we had to offer that would bring value to partners. Too often social entrepreneurs take the money and run, showing up on the doorstep of partners only when the money runs out. If it’s only about you Richard observed you’ll miss the opportunity to turn a financial transaction into an alliance.

Richard’s books are as endearing and playful as his personality.  Filthy Rich and Other Non-Profit Fantasies and This Little Piggy Went to Market  are my favourite titles. At one point, two of his books were among the top ten most read by Harvard business students.

Fifteen years ago Richard and his wife Shelli launched the Milestones Project with the bold vision of bridging cultural and religious differences by photographing the common milestones of children the world over. More than 124 million people have been exposed to Milestones’ exhibits  Here’s a link to the Calgary Exhibit. Check out their social enterprise: In-Common Images: Uncommon Photos for the Common Good if you are ever in need of stock photos.

Richard gave us the confidence to establish PLAN as a social enterprise. And to add the Richard Steckel clause (add value to your partners) to our modus operandi.

Richard died recently after a brief illness. Vickie and I miss him so much.

In his honour the Denver Children’s Museum is creating an outdoor grove full of hammocks.  A perfect tribute to a kid at heart who must surely be swinging on a star.


All of us are better when we’re loved.

     –Alistair MacLeod

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One Comment

  1. Donna Thomson

    Inspiring – amazing work!

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