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A Definition of Social Entrepreneurship

written by: John Garger•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 1/12/2011

A social entrepreneur is a change agent who works with missionary zeal to create and sustain social values. He/she strives to achieve specific goals for social betterment. Read on to learn the definition of social entrepreneurship.

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    What is a Social Entrepreneur?

    Unlike a business entrepreneur who is on the lookout for business opportunities and driven by commercial interests and a profit motive, a social entrepreneur is a different type of individual who recognizes social problems and tries to remedy them using entrepreneurial skills. A good definition of social entrepreneurship is an enterprise such as an organization that advances its social mission by deploying entrepreneurial strategies even although it is devoid of profit motives.Muhammad Yunus - A Well-Known Social Entrepreneur 

    It is appropriate to consider social entrepreneurs as visionaries who carry out social objectives, dedicate their lives to accomplishing social goals, and remain deeply concerned with the practical implementation of their ideas and ideals. Social entrepreneurs are not motivated by profit and often work through nonprofit organizations and social activist groups. There are even organizations that support and train individuals in the art of social entrepreneurship.

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    Social Entrepreneurs and Business Entrepreneurs

    Though not engaged in commercial pursuits, many social entrepreneurs consider their work as a business and not just a cause. This is a way to avoid complacency and ensure that social causes and entrepreneurial action combine to achieve targeted goals. Social entrepreneurs are as ambitious and persistent as business entrepreneurs and display many of the same leadership skills.

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    Social Sector Challenges

    Just as business entrepreneurs change the economy of a nation, social entrepreneurs act as change agents for society by inventing new methods and creating solutions for social betterment. With the population explosion, technological advancements, and complexities of living, the non-profit environment and social entrepreneurship face many challenges including:

    • Social needs are becoming more diverse and demands are steadily increasing
    • Nonprofit organizations - both genuine and less genuine - crop up and compete for government funds and philanthropic support
    • Traditional forms of funding are becoming scarce and obsolete
    • Commercial enterprises vie with non-profit organizations to promote social causes aimed at corporate image-building
    • Government funding agencies, sponsors, and donors are becoming increasingly more socially conscious and demand greater accountability from social entrepreneurs

    Confronted by this changing environment, an increasing number of social entrepreneurs are reinventing themselves, striving to combine the passion of a social mission with an entrepreneurial discipline.

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    Need for Code of Ethics

    In view of the proliferation of non-profit social organizations and a new breed of social entrepreneurs who are emerging, there is a need to evolve and put in place a code of ethics for social entrepreneurs. It is for participants in the field to decide whether the code of ethics should be mandatory, regulatory, or merely informal. It is also imperative to determine which areas the code of ethics should cover.

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    Performance Measurement

    For business enterprises, growth is measured in terms of sales revenue, increased profits, or other hard and easily obtainable measures. One question often asked of social entrepreneurs is: what yardstick judges the performance of social enterprises? No formula calculates the performance of social enterprises, but there are some social organizations that achieve more impact per dollar than similar organizations.

    The field of social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly and attracting increased attention from many sectors. The reasons behind this sudden popularity of social entrepreneurship may be because of social entrepreneurs such as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, eminent business tycoons like Steve Jobs, and recent Schwab foundation award winner Victoria Hale. These high profile people applied their inventive genius and succeeded in creating new products and services that altered society.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons