What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Group of Microfinance borrowers in Costa Rica

Group Borrowers in Costa Rica

I was first introduced to the idea of social entrepreneurship in college while exploring different reads at a Barnes and Noble in between shifts of a summer job. I came across a book in the economics section titled Portfolios of the Poor: How the Poor Live on $2 a Day. In that book I was introduced to Muhammad Yunus and the idea of microfinance. Yunus believes that what limits many of the poor from climbing out of poverty is a lack of access to affordable income generation capital. The brilliance of the idea was the simplicity with which he chose to solve the problem. Instead of requiring borrowers to provide collateral. He required borrowers to take out loans in groups. Instead of physical collateral, he insured the loans with social ties. All borrowers were responsible if one in the group failed to repay. I was hooked. I purchased the Economics of Microfinance, and interned with a MFI in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Upon graduation from college I was selected to attend The Social Innovation Program at George Mason University. While raising money to attend the 6-week program, I encountered the same question from just about everyone I spoke with. That question was, “What is this Social Entrepreneurship thing?”

Ashoka Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs Logo

Ashoka, Innovators for the Public

Ashoka, a leading foundation that supports social entrepreneurship, defines the practice as a mix between revolution and traditional business practices and strategies.

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.

Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

Each social entrepreneur presents ideas that are user-friendly, understandable, ethical, and engage widespread support in order to maximize the number of local people that will stand up, seize their idea, and implement with it. In other words, every leading social entrepreneur is a mass recruiter of local changemakers—a role model proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.

Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating solutions to change society for the better.

At its heart, Social Entrepreneurship is about allowing individuals to use their creativity to tackle and solve social problems. It is about mobilizing individuals like you around a cause and solution that is disruptive and transformative. It is about having values and ideals at the core of your actions rather than as hopeful byproduct.

For Example:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

TerraCycle‘s purpose is to eliminate the idea of waste.

The fundamental objective of Johnson & Johnson is to provide scientifically sound, high quality products and services to help heal, cure disease and improve the quality of life.

Frogtek is a for-profit social venture dedicated to creating business tools for micro-entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

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“None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events.” -Vaclav Havel

Picture of Vaclav Havel, Czech dissident and President

Dissident and President of the Czech Republic


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