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Social entrepreneurs- The new heroes

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Social entrepreneurs are not content to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionised the fishing industry.

—Bill Drayton—founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. 



Most economists and academics support the notion that entrepreneurship is a crucial factor in the development and well-being of societies. Whether the entrepreneurial activities are practiced in factor—driven, efficiency-driven, or innovation-driven economies (Porter et al, 2002), the ultimate results continue to exhibit: i) lower unemployment rates ii) increased tendency to adopt innovation iii) accelerated structural changes in the economy.


Entrepreneurship offers new competition and as such promotes improved productivity and healthy economic competitiveness. Social entrepreneurship is the field in which entrepreneurs tailor their activities to be directly tied with the ultimate goal of creating social value.



A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value. 


Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs primarily seek to generate “social value” rather than profits. And unlike the majority of non-profit organisations, their work is targeted not only towards immediate, small-scale effects, but sweeping, long-term change. In doing so, they often act with little or no intention to gain personal profit. 


A social entrepreneur “combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation and determination commonly associated with, for instance, the high-tech pioneers of Silicon Valley” (Dees, 1998). For social entrepreneurs, the social mission is explicit and central. This obviously affects how social entrepreneurs perceive and assess opportunities. Mission-related impact becomes the central criterion, not wealth creation. 


Wealth is just a means to an end for social entrepreneurs unlike business entrepreneurs, for whom wealth creation is a way of measuring value creation. Social entrepreneurs are a special breed of leader and they should be recognised as such. This definition preserves their distinctive status and assures that social entrepreneurship is not treated lightly.


In addition to innovative not-for-profit ventures, social entrepreneurship can include social purpose business ventures, such as for-profit community development banks, and hybrid organisations mixing not-for-profit and for-profit elements, such as homeless shelters that start businesses to train and employ their residents. 


Social entrepreneurs look for the most effective methods of serving their social missions. One of the best known social entrepreneurs is Toms Shoes ( who promotes the concept of one-for-one. When you buy a pair of shoes from them, they donate a pair to a child in need. 


Since starting operations in 2006, they have donated over ten million pairs of shoes to developing countries, and now their Web site offers a ‘marketplace’ for other social entrepreneurs. Recently Forbes’ Magazine began reviewing Social Entrepreneurs and issued a list of their Top 30, which included: 
• Jordan Kassalow—an optometrist by training, Kassalow now runs an organisation that sells ready-made reading glasses to people in the developing world. 
• Jane Chen’s company manufactures a sleeping bag-like device called the “Thermpod,” which warms low-birth weight babies in hospitals and clinics that have unreliable electricity and heat lamps that don’t always work. 
• Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun of D Light Design, who manufacture inexpensive lamps and sell them in communities that don’t have reliable electricity.



The time is certainly ripe for entrepreneurial approaches to social problems. Many governmental and philanthropic efforts have fallen far short of our expectations. Major social sector institutions are often viewed as inefficient, ineffective and unresponsive. Social entrepreneurs are needed now more than ever to develop new models for a new century. 



This article contains extracts from the following source articles:     


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