Social Entrepreneurs: What Are They And How You Can Become One

July 26, 2021

Companies like the Schwab foundation for social change are involved in social entrepreneurship

Traditionally, entrepreneurs were focused on one goal, to create and scale a business to generate profit. However, nowadays, the goal of entrepreneurship is shifting from one driven by profit to one that is focused on creating positive change.

Enter Social Entrepreneurs.

A social entrepreneur’s goal is to build a great business and ensure that its company positively impacts society.

This could be from helping the homeless to reducing the impact of climate change. Social entrepreneurs see their business, not as one that can provide them with a financially free lifestyle but one whose actions benefit more than just their customers.

This post will cover the basics of social entrepreneurship, why it’s becoming more popular, and how you can start your social enterprise today.

We’ll also look at some pioneering companies leading the way and the innovative founders behind them.

Let’s jump in

When attempting to tackle a social problem, a company can still be for-profit. Still, the organization will typically use a portion of its revenue to support the operational costs and ventures of the social arm of the business.

What Is a Social Entrepreneur?

A Social Entrepreneur (or Socialpreneur) builds a business intending to make a successful social impact on the local community or create a broader social change.

When attempting to tackle a social problem, a company can still be for-profit. Still, the organization will typically use a portion of its revenue to support the operational costs and ventures of the social arm of the business.

Socialpreneur vs. Entrepreneur

Socialpreneur: Someone who sets out with the intention to develop a (sustainable) business to address the social needs of the community or other areas around the world

Entrepreneur: Someone who develops a consumer product in an attempt to make a profit

Social enterprises help balance the status quo in society and tackle social problems

10 Examples of Socialpreneurship

While understanding the nuances of Social entrepreneurship will help you know if it’s the correct route for you when starting a business, analyzing existing companies that are taking part in social ventures, and leading the way in the world of social responsibility can inspire you to take action on your new business in the future.

Ben & Jerry’s

Arguably one of the more famous examples of a company championing for change, Ben & Jerry’s has been pursuing social entrepreneurship since the very beginning.

The company continues to ensure that its products are made cruelty-free and implement positive actions and promote social good from the top down.

When Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield sold the company to Unilever, they felt they could only sell the company in good faith if Unilever carried on its social practices and committed to going even further.

Since their founding, Ben & Jerry’s have been involved in several social issues, including;

  • 1% for peace – The company set a goal to redirect one percent of the national defense budget to fund peace-promoting activities and projects.
  • Content cows – where eight million Ben & Jerry’s pints carried a “Support Farm Aid” message as part of the grassroots efforts of Farm Aid, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land.
  • Committing to transition that all the company’s ingredients to be entirely sourced non-GMO.

TOMS

After a backpacking trip to Argentina in 2006, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie saw the hardships faced by children without shoes.

This inspired Mycoskie to create a for-profit business that a new pair of shoes would be given to a child in need, for every pair of shoes the company sold.

The company exploded to fame following this commitment. Many celebrities endorsed the product and improved its reach across the world. Since then, TOMS has given away nearly 100 million pairs of shoes!

Warby Parker

The founders of Warby Parker started the company to solve a problem. They found that it was costly to buy a pair of glasses, considering that the same company manufactures most glasses produced globally!

Warby Parker set out to make sure this model changed and manufactured quality eyewear that didn’t break the bank. Like TOMS, they also set a mission to donate one pair of glasses for every pair sold.

Patagonia

Did you know that the founders of Patagonia and The North Face were best friends and used to go climbing together? It’s a fascinating story and one you can hear played out on the “Business Wars” podcast. Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, started by making quality climbing gear in his garage but found that his gear was responsible for damaging the environment when he went to his favorite climbing spots. From then on, he vowed never to create anything that directly hurt the environment as a result.

Patagonia’s clothing and gear come with a lifetime guarantee, and the company promotes a workspace that puts the employees first. The company consistently ensures that their products are never manufactured in unsafe working conditions and work only with contractors that provide fair wages and hours.

Google

While Google may not be the first company you think of when considering social entrepreneurship, the organization takes social innovation and sustainable environmental practices very seriously.

Google has been Carbon Neutral since 2007 and plans to be Carbon free by 2030, which is no mean feat for an organization that has massive serve usage.

On top of that, Google ensures that most of its data centers are placed in locations that use clean energy and match 100% of their annual electricity use with renewable energy purchases since 2017.

Lego

Lego focuses its social entrepreneurship on three major areas; Children, environment & people. As a toy company, the company does a lot to promote play for learning purposes and aim that by 2022 to have brought learning through play to 8 million children worldwide.

To limit its impact on the environment, Lego plans to remove all single-use plastic from its boxes by 2025 while creating a safe, fun, and unique work environment for all its employees globally.

Levi Strauss

Making jeans requires a considerable amount of water. Levi noticed this and vowed to reduce the volume of water and resources needed to make their most famous product.

The company also added the product tag, Care for Our Planet, in 2009, which advises users on how to preserve best their clothing and where to donate them once you have no more use for them. Levi Strauss works with Cotton Inc.’s Blue Jeans Go Green to collect used clothing to sell pre-owned or restored vintage clothing items to reduce its carbon footprint. 

Microsoft 

When your founder is Bill Gates – co-founder of one of the most influential nonprofits in the world – you can imagine that Microsoft will be involved in various social enterprise programs and support successful social entrepreneurs.

Like Google, Microsoft is committed to helping to create a sustainable future and earning the trust of its employees and users through a commitment to privacy, security, and the responsible use of AI. If numbers are your thing, Microsoft has;

  • Donated $1.9 billion to nonprofits as well as offering discounted technology and services
  • Ensured their suppliers reduced their Carbon dioxide output by 21 million metric tons
  • Analyze over 470 billion emails each month for malware and phishing attempts

Klein Kanteen

For a company whose main product is a reusable water bottle, you can be sure that social entrepreneurship is at the top of the company’s mission. The organization strived to be a sustainability leader and is a Certified B Corp company and one of the first companies on the market to introduce stainless steel, BPA-Free, multi-use water bottles.

They are driven by removing as much single-use plastic from the planet as possible and even host free filtered water stations at events, bringing along their sustainable mission—a clear example of a company whose mission is championing positive change.

Bronner’s

Another Certified B Corporation whose feel-good factor can be felt in their USDA organic soaps, balms, lotions, and cleaners. The organization is committed to using the purest ingredients. It ensures they do not use any synthetics or additives in their products.

Dr. Bronner also caps all executive pay so that no staff member earns more than 5x anyone else in the company; that goes for the CEO, too, a refreshing concept in the age of inflated corporate wages.

Finally, the company is all about spreading positivity; if you’re ever feeling down, head over to their website for a dose of feel-good hormones.

Social entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes; there is no one size fits all model.

Solopreneur or Co-founder?

There are pros and cons to being either a Solopreneur or starting your social enterprise with a co-founder when it comes to social entrepreneurship.

Working by yourself allows you to develop your social enterprise entirely in the image of your vision. You can create a nonprofit in the developing world or focus on creating social change within your community or society as a whole.

The direction of your business is totally within your control. However, that means all of the pressure rests on your shoulders.

Whereas, when building a company with intentions of solving social problems with a co-founder may allow you to scale quicker and offer your product or services to more communities with a more significant overall impact.

Scaling social enterprises with a co-founder means that you can share the responsibilities, keep each other accountable and hold each other up when times get hard.

Social entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes; there is no one size fits all model. Before starting it’s important to define your goals and decide whether you think a co-founder will help rather than be a hindrance.

Where You Can Start With Social Entrepreneurship

Building a social enterprise is the same as building any business. Your goal is to create revenue. However, instead of using it to fuel your finances, you use it to invoke social change. With that being said, it’s still essential to start by understanding your business model. Do you want to sell merchandise or help provide access to education for underprivileged children? Whatever social problem you want to help solve, start from the beginning:

  • What will you sell?
  • How will you fund it?
  • How will you position your branding/marketing?
  • Do you need to develop a website?
  • What are your core values?
  • What is your mission?
  • What is your niche?
  • What is your Year 1 target?

The more definition you can give to your social enterprise, the better your chances are of starting on the right foot.

Since building any nonprofit contains many of the similarities of doing any other business, take a look at podcasts you can listen to, to gather ideas of manufacturing or innovation. Read blogs from entrepreneurs on how to secure funding and develop a marketing plan using automation and SaaS tools to help keep your business lean in the beginning.

However, the most important thing is to make sure you choose a cause you are passionate about. Ensuring you are creating a business to help solve a problem that means a lot to you will determine your motivation.

Building any business is hard; there will be hurdles and pitfalls along the way. However, suppose your business targets a social issue that aligns with you. In that case, you’re more likely to be determined to create lasting change.

A good example of social entrepreneurial spirit within a team

Social Entrepreneurs To Follow Today

Bill Gates

Co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has been responsible for many philanthropic projects attempting to impact today’s world positively. Gates’ social entrepreneurship also spilled over into Microsoft, as we saw above. If you’re interested in finding out what the foundation is committed to tackling, you can check it all out here.

Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is the founder of the Grameen Bank. This enterprise focuses on providing small loans to those living in poverty. This Bangladeshi-based social enterprise helps those communities in poverty gain access to money they would otherwise have been rejected from receiving. For his work in helping the impoverished, Yunus received a Nobel Prize and has done several talks on “The New Economics of Zero Poverty.”

Bill Drayton

Arguably one of the most influential social entrepreneurs of our time, Drayton is the founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Ashoka takes a personal approach to find, support, and provide value to social entrepreneurs globally, assisting them in creating social ventures that help communities. Drayton is also the chair of the board for “Get American Working!” and “Youth Venture.”

Shiza Shahid

Shahid is a Pakistani social entrepreneur, activist, and investor. She is also the co-founder and former CEO of the nonprofit Malala Fund, promoting education for every girl. In 2013, she was included in Time’s “30 Under 30” list of world change-makers. In 2014, she was listed in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list of global social entrepreneurs.

Blake Mycoskie

Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS – see above -. Through his brand, Mycoskie was able to raise awareness about issues such as global poverty and health. By 2019, TOMS successfully provided people in developing countries with 95 million pairs of shoes. Mycoskie is continuing to scale his mission to provide help and resources to those in developing countries by assisting local communities in gaining access to clean drinking water and providing those who can’t afford it with prescription eyewear.

Is Social Entrepreneurship Here To Stay?

Businesses founded by those with an entrepreneurial spirit to tackle social problems are precisely what the world needs. Companies that bring a social aspect into their goals can look forward to creating a lasting impact outside of the one they have on their consumers but can also feel proud about what the organization can achieve.

Society needs more enterprises that are focused more on success in a community than on profits. Social entrepreneurship is here to stay. Consumers are more likely to do business with those organizations that are championing for change and helping to make the world a better place through helping the community, the environment or promoting a sustainable business model that doesn’t drain the world of resources.

Final Word

Creating a business can be extremely rewarding in its own right. By taking an idea from a note on a page to a fully operational and scalable company. However, combine the success of your business with making a lasting impact in the community, and your rewards can be boundless.

Move forward with purpose and service. Create a positive impact on society and develop a social venture that helps more than just those who buy your product or service. Realize that a successful business is not just one that has a positive balance sheet each quarter, but one that also helps others in need and makes the world a better place to live in.

Social entrepreneurship is here to stay, especially ones that highlight economic improvements for women

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About the author: Joe Silk -

Joseph is a Start-up Consultant, Copywriter & Business Owner with 9 years of PQE. He is extremely client-centric, able to work on a wide range of topics and deliver high-quality standards on projects of all sizes for clients all over the world. View on Linkedin

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