If you dream of starting a business, but what you really want is to save the world, you might be a budding social entrepreneur.
Social entrepreneurship is a term that means different things to different people. To you, it might mean starting a nonprofit organization for a social cause.
Others may think of it as creating a nonprofit entity out of a for-profit company.
And someone else would use it to describe an enterprise that simply integrates social responsibility into its business practices.
So what does it really mean?
In general, it describes a company that uses business structures, innovation, and ideas to effect social change.
While social entrepreneurs may also profit financially from their efforts, the main goal is to apply business systems and processes to fix social problems that aren’t currently being addressed or that traditional methods have failed to resolve.
Brainstorming is an essential part of social entrepreneurship.
By looking at the problem in alternative ways, social entrepreneurs can combine the best aspects of for-profit and nonprofit thinking to bring together the resources needed to effect change.
For that reason, social enterprises can take many forms.
Many are solo ventures, but they can also be run by a team or a corporation.
They can be for-profit or nonprofit or even a hybrid mixing elements of both; for example, a homeless shelter that starts businesses to train and employ their residents.
There’s even a socially entrepreneurial TV show! On Secret Millionaire, wealthy entrepreneurs (like business coach Ali Brown) or corporate executives (like Kevin Sheehan of Norwegian Cruise Lines) learn what life is like for poor people by living incognito in their neighborhood for 10 days.
At the end of the experiment, the millionaire makes a significant donation to a worthy local cause.
What does it take to be a social entrepreneur?
Unlike most people who see a problem in the world, feel bad about it, and move on, social entrepreneurs may even change careers to solve those problems.
What makes a social entrepreneur different from a regular entrepreneur is their motivation. This is where your “why” comes in – the reason you start your business, which also can determine how and how well you do it.
You may already be motivated by your passion for a particular project or issue. But to actually turn that passion into action requires a lot more than just a desire to fix the problem.
In order to accomplish their social mission, social entrepreneurs need to have the courage to take risks that others won’t and the resilience to overcome the obstacles along their way.
What are the biggest challenges for social entrepreneurs?
Overall, they have the same problems that other entrepreneurs do when it comes to starting, running, and sustaining a business.
- Getting money – A common problem for many startups. You may have to start your venture on the side while you keep your day job or other sources of income.
- Business skills – You have to run your social enterprise like a business. Do you or your team have the necessary skills?
- Extended time between startup and sustainability – It may take 6 to 12 months of research and development before you can launch, and it may be years before your business breaks even.
- Regulatory issues – It’s important to investigate the legal and governmental issues around starting a business and the social issues you’re addressing. For instance, you can’t advertise that you donate a portion to a worthy cause and then skip it during lean times. In some countries, they can be extremely complex or limiting.
What really makes a social enterprise different from other businesses is that success is not simply defined as profitability. The #1 priority is accomplishment of their social mission.
Look at what these social entrepreneurs are doing to change the world:
- After a life-changing trip to Africa, 7-figure business coach Suzanne Evans created a nonprofit entity to empower African women and girls to become entrepreneurs and agents of change.
- Bridget Hilton and Ben Richardson were appalled when they read that around the world 5000 children die each day from diseases that could be prevented by washing their hands. Their company, Jack’s Soap, operates on a “buy-one-give-one” principle; for every bar of soap sold, the company donates a free bar of soap to someone in need.
- Matt Flannery is the co-founder of Kiva, the original global micro-finance company. Kiva takes investment money from average people and uses it to make loans to low-income entrepreneurs around the world.
- Foundry Marketplace is a platform that allows entrepreneurs in developing countries to sell their crafts worldwide – sort of like Etsy for social enterprise! Founder Michelle Pride also runs an aggregator site, Trading Hope, that helps local artisans and social enterprises in those countries sell their products in the US through direct sales representatives.
With the global connected-ness of the internet, there’s never been a better time for implementing entrepreneurial approaches to solve social problems. Government and philanthropy can only do so much. The world needs more social entrepreneurs to develop new models for the future.
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.
–Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi
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