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The Social Entrepreneurship Paradigm

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 6/26/2011

Social entrepreneurs want to do more than just make money and have a successful business. They strive to make a difference in their communities and in the world, by using a business model to meet a social need.

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    About Social Entrepreneurship

    The social entrepreneurship paradigm is not new, but has come to the forefront as people grow increasingly unhappy with focusing solely on money and profit. Fast Company and BusinessWeek magazines have both published lists of the most promising social entrepreneurs, and public radio network PBS offers profiles of social entrepreneurs as part of its "The New Heroes" series. Belmont University was the first to offer a major in social entrepreneurship.

    Although social entrepreneurs differ in their focus and in how they describe their motivation, the common thread is a desire to combine business principles and models with a social objective. These individuals want to make a difference in the world, and recognize that often the best way to accomplish their goals is through a business enterprise.

    They may establish a for-profit company that funnels its profits toward worthy causes, or found a not-for-profit organization that is made successful and sustainable through a sound business model. The social entrepreneurship paradigm is often described as following a "triple bottom line": rather than striving solely for financial success, social entrepreneurs focus on achieving success in economic, ecological and social arenas.

    Some entrepreneurs have gone beyond the "social entrepreneur" label and begun coining terms such as "spiritual entrepreneur" or simply "spiritualpreneur", "womenpreneur" and other variations. These individuals typically focus on work in the healing arts, or on helping others to be true to themselves in their business and lives.

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    Social Entrepreneurs

    Perhaps the most well-known social entrepreneur, Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He founded the Grameen Bank, which offers microloans to individuals in impoverished countries so they can support themselves.These people would not qualify for loans through traditional channels, so Grameen Bank represents an opportunity for them to rise out of poverty.

    Other social entrepreneurs create businesses that combine a traditional purpose with a social function. For instance, Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS Shoes, which donates a pair of shoes to East Africa for every pair sold. In the U.K., Liam Black transformed a small Liverpool charity into a major business that employs hundreds of people and provides quality recycled furniture to thousands of low-income families.

    Hildy Gottlieb and her business partner Dimitri Petropolis identified a need in Tucson, Arizona, and created the nation's first Diaper Bank. Like food banks, diaper banks accept donations and then distribute the supplies to needy families, working with nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, and schools. The pair are now working on a new social endeavor as founders of the Community Driven Institute. Their current work focuses on helping communities understand what it takes to truly make a difference in the world by focusing on outcomes and the positive principles elaborated in Gottlieb's book, "The Pollanna Principles". Gottlieb encourages people to stop using the term "nonprofit organization" in favor of the more descriptive and positive name "community benefit organization". Check out our interview with Hildy Gottlieb.

    Josh First, President and CEO of Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co., LLC., combines his expertise in environmental protection and natural resource conservation through government agencies with an independent spirit. He believes that "the best way to protect the environment is to buy it, either for public ownership or for private conservation buyers," and thus approaches land conservation with a business and profit mindset. Read our interview with Josh First.

    Check out these articles for more information about social entrepreneurship:

    What is a Social Entrepreneur?

    Julia Stege, The Magical Marketer