What, Really, is a Social Entrepreneur?
Over the last two days, my Tweetdeck feed has been continuously streaming wisdom from the National Conference on Volunteering and Service taking place New York City. The #NCVS hastag lights up my screen with the voices of so many old (and hopefully new!) friends and colleagues from all over the world. Brilliant, interesting, and passionate people.Being a part of this incredible international movement has been a highlight of my professional, and personal, life. And I am grateful for the experience of being a part of this community of “do-gooders”, ‘”social change leaders” “volunteers” and “innovative leaders.” As I watch the “tweets” go by, the phrase “social entrepreneur” keeps lighting up my screen. Each time it passes, I wonder what the phrase “social entrepreneur” means to each of these individuals? As with so many concepts in the social sector, this is one that I think has different meanings for different people.OK, so I decided to do a little research. Here are a few of the definitions I found:
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
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.
The Skoll Foundation
Entrepreneurs are essential drivers of innovation and progress. In the business world, they act as engines of growth, harnessing opportunity and innovation to fuel economic advancement. Social entrepreneurs act similarly, tapping inspiration and creativity, courage and fortitude, to seize opportunities that challenge and forever change established, but fundamentally inequitable systems.
David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
“Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They view the villagers as the solution, not the passive beneficiary. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they’re serving.”
A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change (a social venture). Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital. Thus, the main aim of social entrepreneurship is to further social and environmental goals. However, whilst social entrepreneurs are most commonly associated with the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors , this need not necessarily be incompatible with making a profit.
As I read each the definitions, I can’t help but wonder, when we talk about social entrepreneurs are we all talking about the same thing?
- What defines a social entrepreneur?
- How is social entrepreneur described in a way that resonates with a range of people?
- How do the current beliefs and current models for funding social issues support or hinder a model for social entrepreneurship?
- If we are making a “profit” and it is used to move the mission forward, isn’t that a good thing?
- Do our current models for funding social issues limit the opportunities for social entrepreneurs?
- How do we create models that make sure we are economically self-sufficient, while simultaneously moving our community visions forward?
And a question, I’ve been pondering it is, our current structure of funding the social sector that relies primarily on the generosity of others viable to sustainability to meet our society’s most pressing needs?
While this blog doesn’t have any revolutionary or groundbreaking answers, I am hoping it sparks some interesting answers. These are questions I am hearing my colleagues are asking. And, it is the fodder for many late night conversations. So I figured I will put it out there and see what wisdom comes back. Appreciate your ideas. More later!