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What is a Social Entrepreneur?

3p Contributor | Thursday April 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Today, poverty is an epidemic. A startling portion of the world’s population dies from preventable diseases, our environmental resources are being depleted at unprecedented rates, and things we take for granted in first world countries — clean water, sufficient food, an opportunity for education — are impossible dreams elsewhere.

We know these are issues, but what actions have been taken?

We have seen the efforts of non-profit organizations. While these efforts have made improvements, they have failed to make substantial change. Then we have the actions of corporations. These groups have an amazing amount of power; of the top 100 economies in the world, 51 are businesses. Nevertheless, corporate actions do more harm than good in what can be accurately termed a reckless pursuit of profits.

The reputation of the modern entrepreneur is one of shark-like brutality and ruthlessness, innovating solely for increased sales regardless of other consequences. It is for this reason that we must differentiate the new form of entrepreneur that has become so essential to society in the 21st century. That entrepreneur is the “social entrepreneur,” and in several essential ways, this person is different from

The Difference Between Social Entrepreneurs and Typical Entrepreneur

The standard entrepreneur has one goal, and one goal only: to increase company profits. This may be done at the expense of anything else, including (when the bottom line calls for it) social responsibility. Here the image is evoked of humans on Pandora in the world of James Cameron’s Avatar, or of the Capitol in Suzanne Collins’ popular Hunger Games trilogy.

It’s certainly true that our society, and a company’s reputation, will mitigate the actions they are willing to take, since a company universally accepted as despicable will get very few sales. Nevertheless, while this pursuit of profit certainly does not mandate being a poor corporate citizen, it often incentivizes it.

In contradiction to this, the social entrepreneur has not one, but three bottom lines: profits, people, and the planet. The social entrepreneur actively examines their impact for reasons beyond “PR damage.” The difference can be stated plainly: While they use a similar business model, the objectives of the social entrepreneur are far different.

The Difference Between Nonprofit and Social Enterprises

Most non-profit organizations rely on donations and sponsorship — which often gives the organization a short lifespan; it seems the NPO model is simply less than functional in our economic model.

Here, the social entrepreneur is different because they are able to bring in a number of additional resources. Most importantly, they are able to generate capital by incentivizing investment from individuals and businesses. This approach allows a social entrepreneur to compete directly with “standard” organizations, giving them increased viability in the modern world.

We are entering a time where entrepreneurial spirit must be redefined. Those who continue to pursue profits above all else, not pausing to consider their impact on resource sustainability or the people they serve and employ, will continue to face a declining reputation. Meanwhile, in stark contradiction, the social entrepreneur shows us what innovation and business sense can do in the modern era.

Author Bio:
Lorna Li manages the small business WordPress themes & solutions division for a CRM company in the Bay Area. In her spare time, she writes about social entrepreneurs and green business.


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  • anand

    I really appriciate the contents in the article. To keep profit, people and planet in focus without hampering any of it is a real challenge. Can u pls give any of the entrepreneur examples who are the examples for the others to lead