A social entrepreneur is an individual who wants to improve the world he or she lives in. Rejecting the status quo, he/she decides to build a project to make the world a better place. This project can either take shape through a for-profit or a non-profit (or hybrid! i.e. a mix of both) entity. What all these projects have in common is the use of a business model (meaning it doesn’t solely rely on donations and grants to finance its activities) and the end-goal of creating meaningful value for all stakeholders.
While we don’t believe everyone should be a social entrepreneur, we do believe every entrepreneur should be a social entrepreneur. And we do believe that those choosing to take the social entrepreneurship route should get as much help and support as possible from individuals, communities, other social businesses and public entities.
How to be a social entrepreneur
The most well-known social entrepreneur is probably Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He is considered the co-founder of micro-credit. His story started when he discovered that very small loans could have a huge impact on the very poor. While these high-risk credits were shunned by traditional banks he himself decided to lend 27$ to 42 women from a village in rural Bangladesh, knowing that given the chance, these people would pay him back. From there, he created the Grameen Bank with such a successful business model that it grew to become one of the largest social enterprise worldwide. One of the factors which contributed to Grameen’s success was the social entrepreneur behind it. Not because Yunus had special qualities, but because (unlike other micro-credit institutions which have since emerge and focus only on generating profits) he made sure that the social mission was always central to the Grameen Bank’s activities.
The quality, thus, which really sets a social entrepreneur apart from other entrepreneurs is their dedication to the social mission.
The other important point is that is doesn’t take much to start a small-scale project. Just by lending 27$ to women, Yunus was able to help them start their own business and thus start generating economic activities. These women then gained extra revenues for their household while Muhammad Yunus was able to perceive a small interest on the loan which could then be reinvested. A virtuous cycle was created and a community improved. A few dollars and the desire to help people was all it took him to become a social entrepreneur.
Social entrepreneur: scaling a project
While anyone can be a social entrepreneur, creating a project which can successfully go beyond a local community to global reach is much harder. Yet, doing so offers, to a social entrepreneur, the chance to have, through leverage, a much greater impact.
To make this work, the social entrepreneur will need to undertake the same steps any successful entrepreneur would. This means building and testing a business model, getting funding, scaling operations, standardizing processes, building successful partnerships...
But scaling a social venture also comes with specific obstacles. A question which often arises is how to balance profit with the social enterprise’s social or environmental goal.
Examples of social entrepreneurs
Daniel Epstein: This social entrepreneur founded the Unreasonable Institute, a “boot camp” for social entrepreneurs.
Martin Fisher and Nick Moon: Through their organization KickStart, they are developing low cost high impact products for those who need it most. One of their latest inventions “ MoneyMaker” allows farmers to pull water from a pond or river and irrigate up to 2 acres of land.
Jacqueline Novogratz: She founded Acumen Fund, a social venture fund with a model set to the needs of the social entrepreneur.
Wendy Kopp: From Teach for America to Teach for All, this social entrepreneur wants to make sure kids with some of the most difficult backgrounds get all the attention and education they deserve.
Bill Drayton: He is the founder of Ashoka, an organization dedicated to finding and fostering social entrepreneurs worldwide. He could also be named responsible for the rise of the concept “social entrepreneur”.
Pooja Warior: This social entrepreneur has a long list of achievements. She founded UnLtd India, the premier incubator for social entrepreneurs before founding Bombay Connect, India’s only coworking space. She was also the instigator of Journeys for Change, a travel agency seeking to inspire leaders through journeys in social enterprises.
Are you a social entrepreneur?
Imagination for People offers you a free (and open-source) suite of tools to help you succeed in your endeavour. Click here to start scaling your project.