Social entrepreneurs start a business to do good in the world, and they’ve always existed. In the past, they were called visionaries, humanitarians, philanthropists, reformers, saints, or simply great leaders. Attention was paid to their courage, compassion, and vision, but rarely to the practical aspects of their accomplishments.
Definition of the typical social entrepreneur
Pragmatic visionaries who achieve large-scale, systemic, and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.
Social entrepreneurs share common attitudes like:
- An unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development.
- A driving passion to make positive social change happen.
- A practical but innovative stance to social problems, often using market principles and forces, coupled with dogged determination, that allows them to break away from constraints imposed by ideology or fields of discipline, and pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t.
- A zeal to measure and monitor their impact. Entrepreneurs have high standards, particularly in relation to their own organization’s efforts and in response to the communities with which they engage. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, are their key tools, guiding continuous feedback and improvement.
- A healthy impatience. Social entrepreneurs don’t do well in bureaucracies. They cannot sit back and wait for change to happen – they are the change drivers.
How can you make an impact in the world with social entrepreneurship?
Social entrepreneurship begins with understanding yourself and the social needs around you. People often wonder where to apply their energy. They want to know whether to become a social entrepreneur or just join an organization, or what issues to focus on. Finding the answers to these questions depends on personal considerations that are different for each person: What do you care deeply about? What situations bring out your natural gifts? Are you comfortable with uncertainty? Do you have a strong need for independence?
Thanks to the many roles opening up in the field, there’s probably a role to fit your temperament. Fewer than 10% of Canadian workers are self-employed. Most people prefer to work in established structures, but that doesn’t mean they have to accept those structures as they are. Many promote change from within businesses and public institutions.
How to get started in social entrepreneurship
Some thoughts on how to get started in social entrepreneurship, adapted from David Bornstein and Susan Davis’ Social Entrepreneurship: What You Need to Know.
- Begin with an end in mind.
- Do what you do best.
- Have people ask you questions about your idea.
- Practice pitching your idea.
- Study the history of the problem you are attacking.
- Develop a theory of change.
- Keep thinking about how you can measure or evaluate success.
- Celebrate every victory, no matter how small.
- Initiate new relationships.
- Apprentice yourself with masters (work without pay if necessary).
- Volunteer for a political or social campaign.
- Publish a letter to the editor or an opinion editorial (op-ed).
- Meet with a newspaper editor and your local MLA/MPP/MNA/MHA.
- Host dinner discussions about your idea.
- Form a group to achieve a modest, short-term goal.
- Ask a question at a public forum.
- Engage people with opposing political views (respectfully, of course).
- Ask for advice from people you admire.
- Read biographies of people who have built things.
- Spend some time working in a different sector, field or country.
- Practice public speaking.
- Take a finance course.
- Learn how to negotiate.
- Find sources of inspiration and use them.
- Hold to principles, be flexible about methods.
- Learn about trends in shifting mindsets.
At GoForth, we’ve combined our love of entrepreneurship and our love of people to create several “close to the heart” social entrepreneurship projects. We’ve witnessed firsthand the power and joy of social change and raising others up. To us, social entrepreneurship is legacy work, making positive change in the lives of others.