‘Social entrepreneurship’ is an endeavor to draw up new business ventures in solving community or social problems. It creates innovative solutions to pressing social issues and mobilizes the ideas, capabilities, resources and social arrangements essential for sustainable social transformation. A ‘social entrepreneur’ combines the passion of a social mission with a business perspective, innovation, and determination and strives for solving the social issues. While doing so, the social entrepreneur would not have the intent for his profits or benefits. The concept of social entrepreneurship has been in existence for few decades and came into limelight with the rise of community and social problems. Many social enterprises present around the world collaborate and support the seeding social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are promoted by the government through support in the form of funds and finances.


Social entrepreneur; Eminent Social Entrepreneurs; Social enterprises; Environmental factors; Government benefits.

At a glance:

1. Introduction

2. Origin of social entrepreneurship

3. How are “Social Entrepreneurs” different from “Entrepreneurs”?

4. Qualities of an Ideal Social Entrepreneur

5. Categories Of Groups Focused On Social Entrepreneurship

6. Strategies of Social Entrepreneurship

7. Starting a Social Enterprise

8. Formal Education in Social Entrepreneurship

9. The role of Government in social entrepreneurship


‘Social entrepreneur’ is a person who takes an initiative in implementing an ingenious or path breaking idea that has the potential to solve social problems and create positive modifications in the society or community. This attempt to draw upon business techniques to find solutions to the social problems or issues is termed as ‘social entrepreneurship’.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd President of the United States. In the 20th century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed as a social entrepreneur for his role in the establishment of Tennessee Valley Authority to overcome the effects of the Great Depression. The Tennessee Valley Authority revitalized local economy by harnessing the power of the local rivers to create cheaper energy.

Origin of social entrepreneurship

The concept of social entrepreneurship is not new. This concept has been in existence for many decades. There were entrepreneurs during nineteenth and twentieth centuries who strived extensively for the eradication of social evils. Many organizations were established that worked towards protecting the child rights, women empowerment, and saving the environment and treatment of waste products. The social entrepreneurs also involved themselves in addressing environmental problems and fiscal issues for rural and urban poverty stricken communities as well, apart from addressing the social problems.

Eminent entrepreneurs who contributed their efforts to eliminating the social problems:

  • Robert Owen, the founder of cooperative movement
  • Florence Nightingale founder of first nursing school and developer of modern nursing practices
  • Susan B. Anthony (US): Fought for Women’s Rights In United States, including the right to control property and helped spearhead the adoption of the 19th amendment.

The concept of social entrepreneurship became popular among the society and academic research, following the publication of “The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur” by Charles Leadbeater. Many activities related to the development of community and higher social purpose comes under the modern definition of the social entrepreneurship. As social entrepreneurship is manifested in multiple forms despite the established definition, it remains a difficult concept to define.

Usage of the terms “Social Entrepreneur” and “Social Entrepreneurship”

  • 1960s-1970s– The terms were used first in literature for social change.
  • 1980s-1990s– The terms came into widespread usage, which was promoted by social entrepreneurs Bill Drayton, Charles Leadbeater, and others.
  •  1950s-1990s– Michael Young was a leading promoter of social entrepreneurship.

Social Enterprises Around The World

1. Gates Foundation

Bill and Melinda Gates are the founders of the Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation helps to improve the quality of the lives for billions of people. It collaborates with the partner organizations that brings resources, expertise, and vision to help tackle censorious problems that include four program areas.

  • Global Development Division works to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.
  •  The Global Health Division accomplishes to harness advances in science and technology that would be helpful in saving the lives in the developing countries.
  • The United States Division functions to improve the education and support to the vulnerable children and families especially in the Washington State.
  • The Global Policy & Advocacy Division solicits to escalate the relationships and promote policies that will help improve the work.

2. The Skoll Foundation

Jeff Skoll, the President of eBay, founded the Skoll Foundation, a social enterprise, in 1999. Till date, the foundation has invested about $500 million in activities related to social entrepreneurship. The Foundation also gives away, Skoll Awards to the deserving social entrepreneurs and organization.  In addition, the foundation also funds a $25 million portfolio of program-related investments (PRIs).

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, is an academic center dedicated to social entrepreneurship, and is run by The Skoll Foundation, in partnership with the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. The foundation also supports other social enterprises such as Ashoka, Acumen Fund and Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship.

The Skoll World Forum is an online platform that facilitates collaboration between the executives and the big brains behind social entrepreneurship. The Skoll Foundation promotes social entrepreneurship through creating public awareness of the social causes through their partnership with organizations such as PBS NewsHour and the Sundance Institute.

3. The Omidyar Network

The Omidyar Network is established by Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam. It is a philanthrocapitalist investment firm that enriches the economic advancement. The network of the firm with other for-profit companies fosters the participation in the areas such as Consumer Internet and Mobile, Education, Financial Inclusion, Governance & Citizen Engagement, and Property Rights.


4. Echoing Green

Echoing Green is a global non-profit organization that provides seed funding and also technical assistance to emerging social entrepreneurs. It organizes a fellowship program for social entrepreneurs. Out of 3,500 applications, only about 0.85% applicants are pulled each year and are trained effectively. Echoing Green Fellows include the founders of Teach For America, City Year, College Summit, Citizen Schools, One AcreFund. It has invested over $40 million in seed-stage funding and provided strategic assistance to nearly 700 world-class leaders driving positive social change around the globe.

5. Ashoka

Ashoka is a network of social entrepreneurs, founded in 1980, by Bill Drayton. It has a worldwide presence with its more than 3000 Ashoka Fellows. Ashoka helps the social entrepreneurs in terms of finance and professional support services, in addition to providing them a global network.

Venture and Fellowship are two remarkable and unique contribution of Ashoka to the community. Venture is a platform or means through which the organization renders support to the social entrepreneurs. It has a scrupulous and meticulous selection process in place to find the most deserving social entrepreneurs and award them lifetime Fellowship. The Fellows receive a living stipend for an average of three years to help them concentrate on their social entrepreneurial activities.

There are many more organizations such as the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Athgo, New Profit Inc., National Social Entrepreneurship Forum, and the Global Social Benefit Institute, which mainly render different levels of resources to facilitate their initiatives or ideas for social change.



How are “Social Entrepreneurs” different from “Entrepreneurs”?

‘Entrepreneurs’ are the individuals who take up novel ideas with the primary obligation of making profits out of the same. They may take the social responsibility and have the commitment to contributing towards the well-being of the society in which they perform. However; this will be a secondary obligation.

In contrast, ‘social entrepreneurs’ are the persons whose primary obligation is to contribute towards the well-being of the society. Making profits is a secondary obligation for them.

Table 1: Unique and common characteristics of profit-oriented entrepreneurs and social-entrepreneurs

Unique characteristics of the profit-oriented entrepreneurCharacteristics common to both typesUnique characteristics of the social entrepreneur
  High achiever   Risk bearer   Organizer   Strategic thinker   Value creator   Holistic   Arbitrageur            Innovator   Dedicated   Initiative taker   Leader   Opportunity alert   Persistent   Committed    Mission leader   Emotionally charged   Change agent   Opinion leader   Social value creator   Socially alert   Manager   Visionary   Highly accountable

Qualities of an Ideal Social Entrepreneur

Figure 1- Qualities of an ideal social entrepreneur

Social entrepreneurs must be highly inventive or innovative and must have the skills that make them stand unique. Social entrepreneurs must be persistent, have a positive attitude that lets them reach the goal, and should never let any obstacles hinder their path.

Social entrepreneurs must have a clear cause (social problem) that motivates and inspires them to reach the target. It can be any social issue which they feel for, and contribute towards it. Social entrepreneurs must have inexhaustible energy as the activities involved in social entrepreneurship are numerous and need time, energy and resources for implementation. Social entrepreneurs must be optimistic and have a positive vision of future, no matter how daunting the social problem may be. They must believe that “there’s light at the end of the dark tunnel”.










Categories Of Groups Focused On Social Entrepreneurship

  • Community-based enterprises- These enterprises are based on the social ventures of an entire community and utilize its culture and capital for empowering itself as an entire enterprise.
  • Socially responsible enterprises- These enterprises mainly focus on the creation of sustainable advancement through the initiatives focusing on their social gains. The social service industry professionals work to expand the social capital for different individuals, communities, and organizations.
  • Socio-economic enterprises– These enterprises aim to utilize the earned profit in bringing non-profit social changes in the communities. Additionally, there are organizations that aid in the empowerment of social entrepreneurs, by facilitating their collaboration with the mentors, strengthening their enterprise models, and by preparing them for capital investments. With the help of these accelerators, the social entrepreneurs can reach the global scale.

Strategies of Social Entrepreneurship

1. Non-Profit with earned income strategies

This kind of social enterprises performs social and commercial entrepreneurial activity to achieve self-sufficiency. In this context, a social entrepreneur operates an organization that would aim for a combination of social and commercial benefits; and the revenue thus generated would only be utilized for further improvement of social values. The examples include Ashoka, Goodwill, Canadian Cancer Society, The Salvation Army, SickKids Foundation etc.

2. For-Profit with goal- driven strategies

These social entrepreneurs operate organizations that are both social and commercial, and the organizations are financially independent.  This is also a social purpose business that performs social and commercial entrepreneurial activities simultaneously for achieving sustainability. The examples include Microsoft, Grameen Bank, DripTech, Revolution Foods etc.

Starting a Social Enterprise

A social enterprise stands on belief- a belief to change the society for good.

1. The first step to start a social enterprise is to introspect what you believe. A social entrepreneur should identify a social problem and later work out a solution for it- a solution that the social enterprise or the entrepreneur believes in firmly. The solution should be realistic, achievable, and have the potential for social impact. 

2. The next step is to share ideas with like-minded who trust your cause and are more than willing to support you.

3. The third step is to hire the staff to execute your entrepreneurial plans. Hiring flexible staff that equals your zeal and enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship is important in the smooth operation of the activities.

4. A very important aspect of social entrepreneurship is finance- a key driver of all activities. The social entrepreneur must know how, when and from where to generate funds. You should be well-networked with people who donate money to a cause. It is a time-consuming activity to build the network of wealthy people having a philanthropic interest.

5. Once you know the art of fundraising, media should be the way to reach out and make your cause known widespread. The publicity thus generated, helps the social enterprise to gain support in terms of human resource and funds.

6. Involving a celebrity or a well-known figure is one of the ways to publicize the social cause and seek the support of others.

7. Finally, keep it simple! The transactions through the social enterprise should be transparent in terms of the funds received, money spent and the impact achieved. The indicators should be measurable and quantifiable to help increase the investment potential to the social cause.

Formal Education in Social Entrepreneurship

Individuals who opt for pursuing their career as social entrepreneurs should be well trained through cases studies and fieldwork. They should be made familiar with the methodologies and framework of social enterprises. One can be the best social entrepreneur and serve the society by not just founding organizations but by bringing their best selves to implement a solution for the social problem.

In the latest issue of the Academy of Management Learning and Education (AMLE), a 2011 report reveals that more than 148 institutions were involved in education related to social entrepreneurship. This high number implies the growing demand for formal education courses on social entrepreneurship and the people’s interest in exploring the opportunities for serving their society.

Greg Dees is a well-known name in social entrepreneurship courses and is regarded as the “Father of Social Entrepreneurship Education”. He has been teaching social entrepreneurship at Harvard University for over 20 years. 

The role of Government in social entrepreneurship

  • The Government, in most countries, actively participates and provides support to social entrepreneurs. The government may promote partnerships with not-for-profit intermediary organizations to achieve value-for-money in program delivery.
  • The government may fund the qualified social enterprises, through intermediaries, in the form of grants, loans, royalties or through financial jobs.
  • The government may finance the enterprises through private sector expertise and investments.
  • The government may serve as a platform for learning the techniques for demonstrating innovative social leverage arrangements.

An appropriate example is Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund run by Ontario government. The $4 million Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund supports inventive social finance pilot projects across the zone. It also helps social entrepreneurs who are pursuing Ontario’s most bothering social and environmental issues, and creating jobs.

Healthcare and Social Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship requires collaboration among professionals from various fields, and social entrepreneurship in healthcare is no different. The healthcare sector can be reformed if the social entrepreneurs are included in the policy-making and implementation of the action plan. Social entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector can help bridge the gap that exists between the policy makers and the ground-level action. The healthcare sector needs low-cost, innovative, and simple solutions to accomplish “Health for All”, and which is only possible through social entrepreneurs working in the healthcare sector.  

The most recognized social enterprise, Ashoka, has 400 Fellows in the health sector. Their initiative, Changemakers.net, is an excellent platform that facilitates engagement of aspiring social entrepreneurs with policy makers, academicians, and citizen representatives.

Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD) is a global health social entrepreneurship hub, consisting of experts from various disciplines. SEAD promotes social entrepreneurs through their institutional relationships and networks. Their partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) helps them leverage the resources including healthcare professionals, students, policymakers, and students.


Social entrepreneurship is being practiced since decades but the concept has recently come into the limelight. Social entrepreneurs usually involve artists, volunteers, development directors, communication specialists, donors, fundraisers, and supporters etc to help them with their cause. The students who wish to become social entrepreneurs must be trained focusing on the entire ecosystem which is required for solving the social problems.


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