Posts tagged with: social entrepreneur

A woman stands next to her newly installed toilet in Agra, India.

Like half a billion women and girls in India, two teenage cousins were forced to walk away from their homes in the Indian village of Katra in Uttar Pradesh to find a private place to defecate. It was during this time that the two girls were mercilessly attacked: raped and hanged from the mango trees that line the fields of their village.

Perhaps the lives of these two young girls could have been protected through access to a toilet at home. Few of India’s villages have proper sanitation, posing critical threats for women. Because of strict traditions of modesty, women are forced to seek relief in the dark, before dawn and after dusk, leaving them vulnerable to harassment.

Social entrepreneur Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak responded to the tragedy by offering to build a toilet for every home in the village. Since founding Sulabh International in 1970, Pathak has constructed toilets for 1.3 million households, servicing 15 million users daily. (more…)

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.