Individuals who start their own businesses are motivated by different things. Some people dream of becoming wealthy and building a global company. Others want to pursue something they’re passionate about or yearn for the freedom of being their own boss. In recent years, a new kind of entrepreneur has emerged: the social entrepreneur.
The concept of social entrepreneurship is now widely recognized, though it’s a relatively new term. It was first coined in the 1980s by Bill Drayton, founder, and CEO of Ashoka, an American-based non-profit organization that promotes social entrepreneurship. However, while many are familiar with the term, fewer may actually understand what it means. At the core, a social entrepreneur is a person who creates a business that has a positive impact on their community, society, or the world. Typically, social entrepreneurs are driven by a deep desire to create positive change. They could very well operate a for-profit business, but they’re also passionate about using their talents and skills to address social or environmental issues. Fairtrade and eco-friendly companies are two examples of businesses that are built for profit but place their emphasis on creating social change.
In addition to creating positive change, there are other benefits that come with being a social entrepreneur. Perhaps at the top of the list is that it provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Since the business is focused on more than just making money, those who are part of the company know that the work they’re doing is making a difference. This sense of purpose can be incredibly motivating and helps to keep everyone focused during challenging times. Other benefits include:
- Increased customer loyalty. Today’s socially conscious consumers are far more likely to support business that are making a positive impact. Since they’re building socially responsible businesses, social entrepreneurs can attract and retain customers who have similar values.
- Competitive advantages. Since social entrepreneurs are often more creative and innovative than traditional entrepreneurs, due to always looking for new and better ways to solve important societal issues, they can differentiate themselves from their competitors and stand out in the market.
- Partnership and collaboration opportunities. Socially conscious businesses often work with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and other businesses to achieve their social or environmental goals. Such partnerships can open access to new markets and resources that’ll help grow your business.
- Creating real solutions. Whether it’s poverty, climate change, inequality, social entrepreneurs work to solve some of the most pressing societal issues of the day. Using their business as the tip of the spear, they help create a more fair and just society for everyone.
When it comes to driving change through a socially conscious business, there are multiple ways to do it with each path having its own strategies and goals for bringing about change. Social entrepreneurship can be open to individual interpretations, but Dr. Joe Johnson, an entrepreneur who has studied the field for more than twenty years and a startup expert, has outlined what he considers to be the four most common categories of social entrepreneurship.
- The Transformational Social Entrepreneur
This entrepreneur is typically focused on creating large-scale change and will tackle complex issues such as inequality, and poverty, or meeting the needs of marginalized communities. Their work frequently addresses needs not being met by governments or other businesses. They often work through policy change, advocacy, or other forms of collective action to influence change at the highest levels.
- Global Social Entrepreneur
These entrepreneurs seek to create positive change on a worldwide scale and work to completely change social systems for the purpose of meeting major global needs. The need in question can be anything from access to clean water to education, but it’s usually a lofty goal that crosses borders and spans continents. These organizations often work with other social entrepreneurs on a particular cause. They may also partner with governments and other businesses to create a more coordinated effort toward solutions to global challenges.
- The Community Social Entrepreneur
This entrepreneurial endeavor, usually an individual or small organization, seeks to serve the needs of a specific community within a small geographical area. They identify social or environmental issues and then work with local leaders and community members to develop solutions. These initiatives could be anything from building playgrounds or starting small businesses, to creating more job opportunities for marginalized members of the community. Positive results of this style of social entrepreneurship can be seen almost immediately and it allows you to speak directly with the people you are helping.
- The Non-Profit Social Entrepreneur
This style of social entrepreneurship is usually the first one that comes to mind when you think of organizations who work toward social change. These entrepreneurs are focused on social gain, rather than monetary, and prioritize positive social change over traditional business needs. This path is often taken by business-savvy entrepreneurs who want to use their skills to effect change in a more direct way by creating a non-profit organization. Some advantages of the non-profit model are tax exemptions and more available funding.
Be a Good Human
While the four categories of social entrepreneurship above may have different strategies and priorities, they share the common goal of using business principles to bring about positive changes in society. For me, it’s simply about being a good human being and finding the path that works best for what you want to accomplish. Too often in business, we see traits like aggression, uncompromising, and lack of empathy, championed as essential attributes of an entrepreneur. I would argue that such traits do far more harm than good. In fact, genuinely caring about others can benefit both you and your business in many ways. Here are just a few examples:
- Positive reputation. People recognize authenticity. When your desire for positive change comes from a genuine desire to help others, it builds a positive reputation for you and your business. People are more likely to do business with someone who cares and gives back to the community.
- Builds and strengthens relationships. Your generosity can help strengthen relationships with others or create new ones. You’ll meet people who are like-minded and share your values and goals. These relationships can benefit you personally as well as professionally, and you may even attract new business or opportunities.
- Sense of purpose. When you know your actions are helping others, it inspires and motivates you to keep going, even during tough times. It provides a reason that becomes the driving force behind your decisions. Having a sense of purpose, and the ability to adapt it to different phases of your life, has a positive effect on your health and well-being. Humans tend to feel lost or adrift when they have no specific direction in life, and a sense of purpose provides that direction.
- Attracts the right people. Socially conscious job seekers look for businesses that are having a positive impact and that share their values. By giving back to society, you can position your business to attract top talent who are looking for more than just a paycheck. When you have employees who share your values and are committed to making a difference, you’re more likely to build a loyal, mission-minded team who will help grow the business while fulfilling their own sense of purpose.
- Positive workplace culture. When you have a group of people who are committed to the same goal, share similar values and sense of purpose, the workplace atmosphere will tend to be positive and uplifting. This creates a more engaged workforce, reduces turnover, and increases productivity. Happy people driven by a common purpose is good for the business and the people who work there.
It goes without saying that “being a good human” isn’t a business tactic, but a natural outflowing of who you are. People can quickly spot a disingenuous person, so being a good human isn’t something you can imitate long-term. However, when you’re driven by genuine compassion for others and live with authenticity, people will be attracted to you and your mission. This is why so many social entrepreneurs are successful at what they do. There are challenges that come with social entrepreneurship, such as lack of funding, resistance from established businesses, and even distrust from some who may question your intentions, but social entrepreneurs are resilient and driven by their passion for positive change.
There has never been a time in history when social entrepreneurship was more needed than today. Having a career in today’s world means more than collecting a paycheck. Modern job seekers, especially Gen Z, and Millennials want more than a job that pays. They want meaning, purpose, and the chance to make a difference. The same can be said of consumers who, partly due to social media keeping the world’s issues in the forefront of everyone’s mind, care more than ever about the purpose behind a company’s product or service. The complex issues around the world require that we all be involved, and business is no exception. For the social entrepreneur, having a business means they can use their passion to solve problems and create products or services that not only make a profit but also make a difference.