What is a Social Entrepreneur?

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By Alexandra Lucier

Some sources narrowly define “Social Entrepreneur” as someone who launches a social enterprise. While this is true in some cases, a social entrepreneur can also be a person who creates a new product, service, or approach for public or social benefit, rather than for profit alone. There is no designated niche for social entrepreneurs – they may work in the private sector, in government or public bodies, or in the non-profit or community sector. They employ a diverse range of approaches and can be a person of any age, background, gender, interest, or skill set. What they share is an entrepreneurial outlook and a common goal of social purpose.

In short, a social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem, and uses innovative principles to organize, establish, and manage a venture with the purpose of social change. While a business entrepreneur typically measures success in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital. Their main goal is to further social and environmental causes. Having said that, it is important to note that, although social entrepreneurs are most commonly associated with the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors, this is not necessarily incompatible with making a profit.

As individuals, social entrepreneurs are ambitious and persistent. They tackle social issues – major or minor – by coming up with innovative ideas for long-term, wide-scale change. Rather than entrusting social needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs take it upon themselves to identify the problem and solve it via systemic change, sharing the solution both with their community and society at large. Although social entrepreneurship can be as simple as starting a community garden, some social entrepreneurs commit their lives to altering the direction of their field. They are visionaries and realists at the same time, concerning themselves with the practical implementation of their social innovation. The ideas of social entrepreneurs must be user-friendly, understandable, and ethical, and they must engage widespread interest if they are to maximize local support.

Examples of global social entrepreneurs include Jim Fruchterman of Benetech, who used technology to address social issues such as the reporting of human rights violations. Also John Wood of Room to Read, giving underprivileged children the opportunity for literacy. Marie Teresa Leal launched a sewing cooperative in Brazil, which complies with environmental concerns and fair labor practices. In India, Inderjit Khurana educates homeless children at the train stations where they beg. Throughout history, individuals such as these have introduced solutions to complex social problems.

While the above examples acted with the intent of wide-scale, even revolutionary social change, such deep global impact is not a prerequisite. As a social entrepreneur, your mission could be as ambitious as pulling millions out of poverty or as modest as feeding a few people in your neighbourhood. Social entrepreneurs distinguish themselves from other social venture players by taking action. They are relentlessly focused and results-driven. In essence, all social entrepreneurs earn the title and recognition for leaving the world (even one as small as their own community) a better place.


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