Social Entrepreneurs

Social Entrepreneurs Photo by Andrew Collings, courtesy of Growing Home

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs work to solve critical social problems and address basic unmet needs through entrepreneurship. Their innovations create system change, improving the lives of underserved or marginalized groups.

Despite the increased attention that social entrepreneurship has received in recent years, there is no precise definition. Various organizations describe social entrepreneurship differently:

  • Ashoka defines social entrepreneurs as “individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems” who “find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to move in different directions.”
  • The Skoll Foundation calls social entrepreneurs “society’s change agents, creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world.”
  • In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Roger L. Martin and Sally Osberg offer a more rigorous definition. A social entrepreneur is “someone who targets an unfortunate but stable equilibrium that causes the neglect, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity; who brings to bear on this situation his or her inspiration, direct action, creativity, courage, and fortitude; and who aims for and ultimately affects the establishment of a new stable equilibrium that secures permanent benefit for the targeted group and society at large.”

What are Some Examples of Social Entrepreneurs?

There are social entrepreneurs all across the world, creating impact in areas as diverse as education, health, technology and more. Many social entrepreneurs have founded or lead social enterprises – organizations that marry the market approach of a traditional business with the social mission of a non-profit. Examples of social entrepreneurs include:

  • Muhammad Yunuswho founded Grameen Bank in 1983 to provide micro-loans to the poor in his native Bangladesh and beyond.
  • Becca Stevens, the founder of Thistle Farms, a social enterprise that treats, supports and employs women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction.
  • Jim FruchtermanCEO of Benetech, who uses technology to address unmet social needs frequently overlooked by Silicon Valley.

Where Can I Learn More About Social Entrepreneurship?

Visit the Social Enterprise Alliance Knowledge Center to explore social entrepreneurship and social enterprise more in depth. You’ll find everything from TED Talks on social entrepreneurship to the top 50 schools for social impact, essential questions to ask before starting a social venture, how social entrepreneurs are getting better and more. To receive periodic social enterprise news, updates and stories straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.

Social Enterprise Alliance is the national membership organization for social enterprise practitioners, experts and enthusiasts in the United States. As such, many SEA members are social entrepreneurs or work with social entrepreneurs. To search SEA members, visit our organizational and individual member directories. To join our community, click here to learn about membership options.

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