What is a Social Entrepreneur Anyhow

"Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry."— Bill Drayton, CEO, chair and founder of Ashoka, a global nonprofit organization devoted to developing the profession of social entrepreneurship

Whether by accident or some sort of greater design, more and more of my work activities have led me to work and interact with the new breed of social entrepreneurs.

Just this week I have interviewed a publisher in the green building industry, corresponded with two contractors that are taking their businesses from “standard” businesses to green businesses and have a meeting with a realtor that developed the first ever “Green MLS.” Now she’s helping other major cities do the same. My business development work at the Institute for Building Systems is keeping me knee deep in all of the aspects of starting a business based on green building practices.

But what is a social entrepreneur anyhow, compared to a “regular” entrepreneur?

According to Wikipedia, “A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.”

Social entrepreneurs start organizations with a mission of more than just making money. They also have a mission of helping the greater society (local, regional or national). They will usually sacrifice a significant amount of money for the good of the cause of the organization. Social enterprises started by these entrepreneurs can be for profit or not for profit.

Entrepreneurs start enterprises and assume significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome. No one person is big enough to drive even the smallest socially responsible organization on their own. Forming alliances with likeminded people and driving the business building process forward is critical.

The most famous of the for profit social entrepreneurs are people like Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms and Jeffery Hollander of Seventh Generation for instance. But the small guy is just as important.

Every electrician that has a family to feed and chooses to spend extra money for training and risk his meager marketing budget to re-work his business into a solar installation company at the early side of the market cycle is also participating. The legions of organic farmers across the country that know they could make more money by farming with standard practices also contributes to the social entrepreneurship landscape.

And of course, those that start non-profits fall into the same category. The key is that these people are the visionaries and risk takers, whether for profit or not-for-profit. They dive in with both feet when there is no safety net, and do it for the good of the community, not just the good of their wallets. They are balancing both kinds of green!

A great reference for more about social entrepreneurship can be found at http://www.skollfoundation.org/aboutsocialentrepreneurship/whatis.asp