What is a Social Entrepreneur?


What is a Social Entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs are visionary individuals with creative solutions for solving some of the world’s most perplexing social problems. These people have the ability to identify the problem, develop a way to change the system, and disseminate the ideas so that entire societies work together to raise themselves above crisis. They’re ambitious, driven, resourceful, and results-oriented.

Social entrepreneurship is the art of creating a socially responsible business that aims to generate profit, while solving social and environmental problems. Social entrepreneurs start and run social enterprises – commercial businesses that often come with a “triple bottom line” mandate. The triple bottom line refers to people, profits, and the planet. TBL implies that businesses can and ought to be run in a financially, socially, and environmentally responsible manner.

According to CorpWatch, “Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are businesses; the other 49 are countries. This is why triple bottom line concepts are so important – it’s not just about commerce, it’s about civilization.”

What is the difference between a social enterprise and a nonprofit?

Social enterprises are often confused with nonprofit organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The main difference between a nonprofit and social enterprise is the revenue model. Nonprofits rely primarily on charitable contributions, public funding and foundation grants to support their programs and cover their administrative overhead. If, due to a bad economy, donations, grants, and public sector subsidies dried up, the non profit would have to shut down. Very few nonprofits have created robust earned income streams, though there is an increasing trend to do so.

A social enterprise is designed to operate like a for profit business. Social enterprises rely primarily on their earned income stream, and like any other company, if needed, it takes loans, invites capital investments, forms partnerships etc. in order to expand its business activities.

A nonprofit’s sole aim is to create social value where as the aim of social enterprise is two or three fold: financial, social, and environmental sustainability.

Organizations, networks, and resources for social entrepreneurs

Several organizations are heralding the cause of social entrepreneurship, providing social enterprise grants and loans, or supporting social innovators through business incubation services, professional networking, information and advice. Some of these social enterprise organizations include:

  • Ashoka works with social entrepreneurs to spur projects that will profoundly transform society. They provide microfinance loans and support to the citizen sector, as well as promote collaboration between groups and networks of social entrepreneurs.
  • ClearlySo is an online marketplace for social business, enterprise, and investment. Through their website, social businesses and enterprises can connect with peers, potential investors, as well as community members and governmental organizations.
  • Echoing Green invests in and supports outstanding emerging social entrepreneurs to launch new organizations that deliver bold, high-impact solutions. Echoing Green offers 12-15 Fellowships each year to new social entrepreneurs, providing up to $90K in seed funding distributed via 4 equal grants over a two-year period.
  • Finca is a microfinance institution that provides small loans and financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs through a village banking model. Neighbors within a community come together to form a financial support group known as a “village bank”. When individuals within the group borrow capital for their microenterprises, because they have little to offer for collateral, the group guarantees those loans. The group dynamic provides the support and the motivation for the individual to pay back the loan. On the flip side, when a business supported by the village bank prospers, the entire community is invigorated.
  • i-genius is a social network for social entrepreneurs. Through its online platform, i-genius enables social entrepreneurs from anywhere in the World to communicate with one another via the Internet.
  • INSE: The International Network of Social Entrepreneurs provides a communication platform using Web 2.0 for Social Entrepreneurs to connect, promote and collaborate on social ventures.
  • Grameen Bank is a microfinance organization and community development bank that makes low-interest and collateral-free microcredit loans to the most impoverished people of Bangladesh. Grameen Bank was founded by Professor Mohammad Yunus, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, on his efforts to break the cycle of poverty faced by the rural poor. Like Finca, Grameen operates through a village banking model.
  • Kiva is an online micro-lending platform that connects investors with entrepreneurs across the globe. Kiva aims to alleviate poverty through peer-to-peer lending delivered over the Internet. Kiva partners with existing microfinance institutions in order to gain access to qualified entrepreneurs in communities worldwide, providing these hard working individuals with interest free loans so that they can improve their lives.
  • Root Cause is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing financial aid to social entrepreneurs and educating social impact investors. They also conduct research to inform social investors and offer strategic consulting to help individuals and organizations in their social impact goals.
  • Skoll Foundation provides investments and facilitates connections between social entrepreneurs and other innovators in an effort to support changes that will fundamentally improve society. Their Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship recognizes remarkable social entrepreneurs each year.
  • Social Entrepreneur Corps offers university students, recent graduates, and young professionals the opportunity to participate in international internships, volunteering, and insight travel program experiences in developing countries.
  • The Stanford Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program is an excellent way to become immersed in the field of social entrepreneurship as a student. SIE brings together faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students across Stanford to develop innovative, technology-based solutions with a potential for social benefit.

Through organizations like these, courageous and inventive individuals are working to profoundly improve the world by encouraging environmental sustainability and societal equality.

Profiles of social entrepreneurs

Many causes have been advanced through these individuals and organizations. Take for instance Renata Arantes Villella and her organization Flor Amarela. Working with Ashoka in Brazil, Flor Amarela works with hospitals to test newborns for developmental disabilities to ensure prompt treatment. They also provide students with disabilities the support they need to get a quality education.

In Guatemala, the Centro Explorativo assists locals by fixing their computers and teaching them English as a way of helping them contribute more to their communities. And through an organization called Christmas Future, HiMaT Grassroots Development Foundation is raising funds from individuals and corporations to empower women by providing microfinance loans and teaching them organic farming methods.

Want to be a social entrepreneur?

Social Entrepreneur







Anyone can be a social entrepreneur if their passion is to enact change to shift our culture from one of inequality to one of sustainability and justice. Working with social entrepreneurship organizations, you too can seize opportunities others miss by providing innovative and life-altering solutions that will transform society for the better.

If your mind is overflowing with sustainable, actionable solutions for common social problems and you’ve got a passion for making a big difference in the world, you may just be a social entrepreneur in the making. With growing challenges such as extreme poverty, environmental sustainability, educational deficits in developing countries, and the spread of virulent diseases, the world needs people with the ideas and the drive to fundamentally shift society as we know it today.

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