What is a social entrepreneur ?

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development. They pursue poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices. A social entrepreneur, similar to a business entrepreneur, builds strong and sustainable organizations, which are either set up as not-for-profits or companies.

A social entrepreneur is a leader or pragmatic visionary who:

  • Achieves large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.
  • Focuses first and foremost on the social and/or ecological value creation and tries to optimize the financial value creation.
  • Innovates by finding a new product, a new service, or a new approach to a social problem. 
  • Continuously refines and adapts approach in response to feedback. 
  • Combines the characteristics represented by Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.

The Schwab Foundation employs the following criteria when looking for leading social entrepreneurs: Innovation, Sustainability, Reach and social impact.  

Social entrepreneurs share some come common traits including:

  • An unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development 
  • A driving passion to make that happen. 
  • A practical but innovative stance to a social problem, often using market principles and forces, coupled with dogged determination, that allows them to break away from constraints imposed by ideology or field of discipline, and pushes them to take risks that others wouldn't dare. 
  • A zeal to measure and monitor their impact. Entrepreneurs have high standards, particularly in relation to their own organization’s efforts and in response to the communities with which they engage. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, are their key tools, guiding continuous feedback and improvement. 
  • A healthy impatience. Social Entrepreneurs cannot sit back and wait for change to happen – they are the change drivers.

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship is 

  • About applying practical, innovative and sustainable approaches to benefit society in general, with an emphasis on those who are marginalized and poor.
  • A term that captures a unique approach to economic and social problems, an approach that cuts across sectors and disciplines grounded in certain values and processes that are common to each social entrepreneur, independent of whether his/ her area of focus has been education, health, welfare reform, human rights, workers' rights, environment, economic development, agriculture, etc., or whether the organizations they set up are non-profit or for-profit entities.
  • It is this approach that sets the social entrepreneur apart from the rest of the crowd of well-meaning people and organizations who dedicate their lives to social improvement.

 

About organizational models

Leveraged non-profit ventures 

The entrepreneur sets up a non-profit organization to drive the adoption of an innovation that addresses a market or government failure. In doing so, the entrepreneur engages a cross section of society, including private and public organizations, to drive forward the innovation through a multiplier effect. Leveraged non-profit ventures continuously depend on outside philanthropic funding, but their longer term sustainability is often enhanced given that the partners have a vested interest in the continuation of the venture.

Hybrid non-profit ventures 

The entrepreneur sets up a non-profit organization but the model includes some degree of cost-recovery through the sale of goods and services to a cross section of institutions, public and private, as well as to target population groups. Often, the entrepreneur sets up several legal entities to accommodate the earning of an income and the charitable expenditures in an optimal structure. To be able to sustain the transformation activities in full and address the needs of clients, who are often poor or marginalized from society, the entrepreneur must mobilize other sources of funding from the public and/or philanthropic sectors. Such funds can be in the form of grants or loans, and even quasi-equity.

Social business ventures 

The entrepreneur sets up a for-profit entity or business to provide a social or ecological product or service. While profits are ideally generated, the main aim is not to maximize financial returns for shareholders but to grow the social venture and reach more people in need. Wealth accumulation is not a priority and profits are reinvested in the enterprise to fund expansion. The entrepreneur of a social business venture seeks investors who are interested in combining financial and social returns on their investments.