There is a lot of talk today about “social entrepreneurs.” What is a social entrepreneur, and how does that differ from a business entrepreneur? Why do social entrepeneurs matter?
According to the Ashoko website:
Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.
Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.
These are people like Marie Montessori, who pioneered a new method of education, and Muhammad Yunus, who created Grameen Bank, known for its revolutionary form of microfinance.
Social entrepreneurs differ slightly from business entrepreneurs, although there may be some “cross-over.” While business entrepreneurs typically start businesses because they want to make a profit and serve a particular customer base, social entrepreneurs usually start with the desire to solve a problem. While profit may be an outcome, it is not necessarily a part of the social entrepreneur agenda. For instance, a chef may decide to start a restaurant because she loves cooking and wants to profit from it. A social entrepreneur may start a restaurant because she wants to teach young people how to cook so they can gain valuable job skills. Both are worthy goals, built on different platforms.
In Ireland, Michael Kelly saw that most supermarkets were filled with imported produce, even though fresh local options were available. Not only was the lack of fresh food a nutritional issue, it was costing jobs and impacting local growers. He created GIY (Grow It Yourself) Ireland, helping people grow their own produce and increase demand for locally grown food.
Kahiniawalla is an organization borne of hope and necessity. Samantha Morshed was looking for a way to help rural Bengali women create sustainable jobs. While they were able to make wonderful handmade items, they didn’t have an easy way to sell and distribute them. After meeting Austin and Marita Miller, Kahiniawalla was born: handmade items “that tell a story”.
Some social entrepreneurs start with an eye towards artful expression, such as Patricia Michaels, a clothing designer from New Mexico. As an artist, she wants to do more than simply create beautiful clothing; she uses her business as a way to “raise the status of Native American people”, connecting the stories she grew up with to the outside world in her designs – teaching through art, if you will.
Social entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds, with agendas as different as Ireland is from Bangledesh is from New Mexico. They may be artists, missionaries, engineers, teachers. All are confronted with an issue or problem, and see a way to solve it. Then they try to do just that. Social entrepreneurs matter because they are NOT people who say, “You know, somebody ought to…..”, and wonder why the government or some agency hasn’t yet solved the problem. They think, “somebody ought to…” and ask, “Why not me?”, tackling the issue through a blend of creativity, determination, business acumen and a desire to serve and solve.
Cross-posted at PovertyCure blog.