What is a social entrepreneur? Is it just a trendy title anyone can attach to themselves if they believe they do good, or is it something all business owners and entrepreneurs should strive to be?
I’m not surprised if the “social entrepreneur” title confuses you. Not all online definitions agree on what a social entrepreneur is. Someone responded in a Facebook group that they thought it meant social media entrepreneur. My favourite definition is from the Canadian Social Entrepreneur Foundation:
“A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change (a social venture).”
Ashoka founder Bill Drayton coined the term social entrepreneur in the 1980s. Simply put, social entrepreneurs make businesses that solve social problems. Also see phrases like conscious capitalism or corporate social responsibility. Unlike many traditional businesses which place profit first, social businesses place people over profit or people at the same level as profit. Unlike charities or social enterprises, social businesses also make money. Some, like TOMS and TenTree Apparel, make a lot!
In my, ahem, humble opinion, social entrepreneurship is the most important way forward for our planet for three reasons:
- Many startups looking to solve social problems are fairly nimble, meaning they can evolve quickly to suit a need. That’s not to say they don’t have their own bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but at least it’s not on both ends.
- Social entrepreneurs are creative. Maybe not in the Picasso way, but definitely when it comes to coming up with connecting ideas and innovating. They’re revolutionaries!
- They care. It’s one thing to say your corporation has a green policy…like you recycle paper or something; it’s another to be building a solar farm or feeding starving children. There’s a clear intent and conscious approach to the work. It’s not an afterthought.
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” – Bill Drayton
There are a number of different business models, such as TOMS 1 for 1 (buy a pair of shoes and they give a pair to someone in need) or Indiegogo’s crowdfunding platform. Read the books I mentioned in my last blog post if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration.
If you want to solve a problem and build a profitable business doing it, you totally can. In fact, you should.