What Is a Social Entrepreneur?

Learn the path to becoming a social entrepreneur, where passion for societal change meets innovative business strategies, in our guide designed to inspire and empower your journey.

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If you’re a first-time business owner, maybe you don’t even think of yourself as an entrepreneur. You’re simply driven and motivated by an idea or a cause that’s close to your heart. But you might be a social entrepreneur and not even know it.

Social entrepreneurs are business owners who strive not only to earn a profit but — equally, if not more importantly – use their businesses to respond to social issues in their communities and around the world. They are a special group of motivated individuals who passionately bring about change by combining social issues and commerce. It’s a win-win situation, where public awareness of the issues is increased, and the people impacted by the problem can recognize the need for change and work toward improving systems. 

Social entrepreneurship is not a new concept, but it’s evolved into something companies use for marketing purposes — in large part because it can attract new customers: “40% of consumers seek purposeful brands and trust in brands to act in the best interest of society.” If more people seek out your brand because of your stance on an important issue, this can have a positive impact on your bottom line. 

Keep in mind, though, that consumers are savvy and can discern the lack of authenticity from companies leveraging issues to earn a profit and making misleading claims about the financial support they provide to a cause. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at social entrepreneurship and help you decide if this is a path you’d like to take with your company. 

Examples of Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is opening up opportunities for business-minded individuals who are looking for meaningful impacts besides making a profit, and younger generations seem to be pushing this trend: Around 70% of U.S. millennials hope companies will take the lead on the social issues they find important. 

Below, we’ll look at social entrepreneurs who’ve developed business models to respond to social challenges.

Blake Mycoskie, TOMS (Retail)

One can’t discuss social entrepreneurship without mentioning TOMS and its founder, Blake Mycoskie. The brand’s “One for One” model, which donates a pair of shoes to a person in need for every product the company sells, has made a lasting impact on the worlds of business and fashion. Brands having a social mission and promoting corporate social responsibility might be popular today, but TOMS was the one that made it mainstream. As of today, it’s impacted over 96 million lives across 85 countries.

Blake Mycoskie is passionate about inspiring young people to effect positive change in the world and hopes to see a future filled with social impact-driven consumerism. Since its launch, TOMS has extended the One for One model to eyewear and coffee products. The company is also donating eye care and safe water in collaboration with countless organizations, such as UNICEF, Save the Children, Partners in Health, the Red Cross, and others. 

Ned Tozun, d.light (Technology)

Ned Tozun is the founder and pioneer behind d.light, the startup Forbes described as “one of the best case studies on how social enterprises can improve the world.” The company has four hubs located in Africa, China, South Asia, and the United States, delivering solar-powered products such as lights, phone chargers, radios, and TVs to households and small businesses in 70 countries. The company aims to transform the way people use and pay for energy through reliable, affordable, and accessible solar lighting and power systems. By 2030, it hopes to improve the lives of 1 billion people. 

In a podcast interview, Tozun recalled his time at Stanford design school and sneaking into a course called “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability,” which sparked his passion for addressing the fact that about a fifth of the world didn’t have access to electricity. He then set out to learn how to fundraise and leverage technology and entrepreneurship to promote social impact. To date, d.light has 1,000 employees, with thousands more in commissioned agents, and generates about $100 million of revenue each year.

Shelley Saxena, Sevamob (Health Care)

Sevamob is a subscription-based health care model. Its network has mobile clinics that provide consultations, medicines, 26 rapid tests at point-of-care, dental, vision, ENT, and diet planning. Sevamob also supports a telehealth marketplace that offers video consultations and second opinions from more than 470 participating health care providers.

Shelley Saxena founded Sevamob after his mother was given a wrong diagnosis and incorrect treatment following a diagnosis of Hepatitis C. He learned there was a severe need for access to doctors in developing countries like India. Saxena leveraged his extensive experience in IT, marketing and research, and development to address this gap through Sevamob’s mobile clinics and telehealth marketplace. 

The model is primarily used by schools, employers, nonprofit organizations, private companies, and hospitals. Currently, the organization is improving the well-being of an average of over 20,000 patients per month through its consultations in India and South Africa.

Jenny Anderson, Celebrate EDU (Education)

Jenny Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of Celebrate EDU, which provides entrepreneurial education to young adults with autism and developmental disabilities. The idea was inspired by watching her brother Brent, who is on the autism spectrum, find his voice and succeed because their mom helped him launch his business. Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Brent Anderson became a bestselling author and an inspirational speaker.

Jenny Anderson’s goal for Celebrate EDU is to create more stories like her brother’s. Currently, people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to those without a disability. Celebrate EDU aims to help people living with developmental disabilities overcome the challenges of unemployment through strength-based learning and training programs.

Presently, Celebrate EDU has partnered with 22 schools and organizations in seven states to teach entrepreneurship and business to individuals with disabilities to help them utilize their passions and interests toward a career. 

Alloysius Attah, Farmerline (Software/Agriculture)

Alloysius Attah is the CEO and co-founder of Farmerline, a software company that sends text and voicemail messages to farmers about weather forecasts, market prices, and farming techniques. Farmerline’s mission was inspired by Attah’s own experience as a young man on the farm in Ghana. He knew that the biggest challenges of small-scale farmers are not isolated to being able to support their families and harvest crops each year. 

Attah knew farmers needed access to information and services to grow and sell their crops. This is why he’s also leading Farmerline and thousands of farmers into business development and product design. To date, the company has served over 200,000 farmers and mapped 1 million acres of farmland across 12 countries.

Christopher Gray, Scholly (Technology/Education)

Scholly is a scholarship search mobile app that uses artificial intelligence algorithms to match students with scholarships they can apply for based on their interests, accomplishments, and unique traits. The app is aptly described as the “No. 1 college scholarship app in the world.” Since its inception in 2014, Scholly has helped students win more than $100 million and counting. 

Although Christopher Gray’s story ends with winning $1.3 million in scholarships, including funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Gray’s upbringing is rooted in poverty. To win his scholarships, he spent over seven months searching from library computers and writing essays from his phone. And though Gray learned to find, apply for, and win scholarships, his experience also showed him the broken state of the scholarship ecosystem.

So, along with fellow Drexel alum Nick Pirollo and fellow Coca-Cola Scholar Bryson Alef, he founded Scholly to make looking for and applying for scholarships easier for students everywhere.

How to Become a Social Entrepreneur

As you can see, social business inspirations can come from anywhere. The social issue you want to change or improve might not be a direct experience but something you see in the world, as exemplified by Blake Mycoskie and Ned Tozun. Or, like Jenny Anderson and Shelley Saxena, you might want to address social challenges that have directly impacted your loved ones. Either way, you need passion combined with business strategies to bring about social impact effectively. 

Being a social entrepreneur in action is not very far from being a regular business owner. Although it’s true that you need a lot of heart and innovative solutions, it’s more important to have a plan and the determination and commitment to see it through, like the innovators we’ve featured above. 

To guide you in creating your plan, here are seven steps to becoming a successful social entrepreneur as shared by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

  1. Define your mission: Start by answering simple questions like, “What do I know how to do?” “How can I use it to help others?” “What value can I add?” 
  2. Research and learn the industry you want to enter: Reach out to fellow socially minded business owners like the Social Enterprise Alliance. They provide resources to social entrepreneurs to facilitate social entrepreneurship on a national scale. 
  3. Define your unique selling point: Evaluate your skills, education, and interests. Center your business idea on value creation and how you can do it only as you can.
  4. Reach out to others for feedback and support: Being a business owner requires a lot of networking. And if you’re lucky, you may even find a mentor and collaborators to seek advice and feedback. Present your idea to people you trust and get their observations and opinions.
  5. Develop your business model: A business model defines how your business will earn income. At this point, you should have a business plan containing details of what your social venture will be, how much money you need to start it, and how you’re going to implement your plan. 
  6. Identify initial funding sources: After doing all that work, you are now ready to start looking at funding your business. You can apply for a business loan, self-finance, borrow from family or friends, or look into angel investors and/or crowdfunding. For resources and support, connect with organizations like the Global Impact Investing Network and RSF Social Finance.
  7. Create an action plan: Your action plan is separate from your business plan. It’s a must for every entrepreneur to have a master to-do list of business goals and action items. It should contain exact dates of when you plan to achieve goals, like launching your business. 

Start Your Social Venture Today

Do you long and aspire not only to make your dream of owning a business a reality but also to effect social change in your community and the world? You may be a budding change-maker. If you need help defining your business idea, start with your passions and interests and what you care about.

Are you passionate about social justice, climate change, or green living and sustainability? These are interests you can pursue to create a positive impact and bring about social innovations.

From there, examine where you can provide a service or product to fill the gaps or solve social problems. And take stock of your network, skills, strengths, and weaknesses and how you can leverage them to achieve your goal and mission.  

There are many steps involved in starting a business, even more so if your venture includes effecting change. Let the dedicated team at ZenBusiness assist you with the process. We offer affordable and easy solutions for all your business needs, from filing your startup documents to domain registration. Simplify your startup process with ZenBusiness so that you can focus on growing your business and promoting social responsibility.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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Written by Team ZenBusiness

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