What Is Social Entrepreneurship, Anyway?

A cheat sheet on what it means to be a social entrepreneur

If you have been hearing the words “social entrepreneur” a lot lately, you are not alone. Social entrepreneurship is a new way of doing business, one that is gaining popularity worldwide.

But who and what is a social entrepreneur, exactly?

Social entrepreneurs have many characteristics in common with traditional entrepreneurs. Both are trying to fill a market need or close a gap in an industry. Both have chosen a less conventional job path, and are doing something that has more financial, professional, and personal risk. Both are often highly creative problem solvers.

The main difference is this: social entrepreneurship measures success not just in the amount of money earned, but in the impact that is made.

That is where the “social” part of social entrepreneurship comes from. Social entrepreneurship is when a person uses business knowledge and innovation to positively impact the daily lives of their friends, family, and community. Having lived in those communities, social entrepreneurs are more familiar with local challenges. And because of that, they are the best people to find the solutions.

A social enterprise does not need to be complicated, but must focus on improving life for a person or group of people. For example:

  • A social entrepreneur is someone like Benyam in Ethiopia, who saw an opportunity to renew a common waste item – sisal fiber – as a product people would buy, and hired at-risk young people to craft sisal bags. Now Benyam is cleaning up his community and providing jobs to youth.
  • A social entrepreneur is someone like Mariam in Lebanon, who saw that rural schools where she lives do not have technology for students to learn on. Mariam saw this as an opportunity, and started a service where she travels from school-to-school with computers, a 3-D printer, coding games, and other technology to inspire students.
  • A social entrepreneur is someone like Laetitia in Rwanda, who developed a program to train women in pig farming, and created a system where some of the piglets born to farmers in her program are given to women who want to learn, creating incomes and livelihoods for rural women.

See the positive impact made by each of these projects?

Many innovators do not realize they are social entrepreneurs. Most of the time this is because social entrepreneurship still lags behind traditional entrepreneurship when it comes to interest and knowledge.

There is also the fear that doing good through a business or organization means you are sacrificing the opportunity to earn capital and create a livelihood for yourself. This is not true. A social enterprise is still a business and a livelihood. What is different is that in making money, the business owner also creates positive social change. Not only that, but many investors and grant applications look specifically to social enterprises to find projects that are savvy business ideas but also smart investments for the community.

Think of your own community project or idea. Based on the description above, are you a social entrepreneur? If not, how could you include an aspect of social good into your business?

Social entrepreneurship is when a person uses business knowledge and innovation to positively impact the daily lives of their friends, family, and community.

Leave a Comment