In American culture, entrepreneurs are like modern-day heroes. Taking great risks, entrepreneurs strive to build something greater than themselves — something that will bring wealth and prestige, perhaps something that will outlive them by generations. Yet, there is a special class of entrepreneurs that goes even further, who hope to use their business to solve social problems and effect positive societal change. That entrepreneur is the social entrepreneur.
Many entrepreneurs solve consumer problems by delivering products or services that make life easier, more comfortable, or more fun for a target audience. Yet, some entrepreneurs manage to provide solutions to societal problems, allowing groups of people to survive, improving their safety, and achieving greater equity. Social entrepreneurs strive to balance their financial returns with positive social outcomes, putting their resources toward the greater good.
Though being a social entrepreneur is undeniably noble, it is not necessarily easy. Here are a few steps that entrepreneurs may want to follow to transform themselves into benevolent business owners.
Understanding the Complexity of Social Problems
If a social problem were easy to solve, it would no longer be a social problem. Many social issues are incredibly complicated, which is why no government agency, non-profit organization or for-profit enterprise has managed to overcome it. Before an entrepreneur sets out to solve any social problem, they may want to invest time into building a strong foundation of knowledge regarding the causes and complexities of social ills.
An entrepreneur might consider earning a degree in a broad field that encompasses a number of social concerns, like a BA in sociology or history, or an entrepreneur might focus their studies on a particular field rife with social problems, like a BA urban studies or criminal justice. With in-depth study comes in-depth understanding, which can lead to useful insights to fuel social entrepreneurship.
Develop a Passion for a Single Social Issue
There are many social problems that benefit from attention from social entrepreneurs, but a social entrepreneur cannot solve every issue that society faces. At least for now, social entrepreneur must narrow their focus to a single social concern. Then, they can deepen their knowledge within that particular field and devise more targeted solutions that may have a more noticeable impact on affected populations.
Social entrepreneurs often find their motivation increases when they feel passionately about the social issue they are working to solve. To find a passion, a social entrepreneurs might ask themselves:
What are your values?
What issues are important to you?
What social problems are most bothersome to you?
What component of the status quo do you wish to change?
The utter elimination of a social problem should never be the social entrepreneur’s goal. Not only is this all but impossible, but only the most experienced and well-known social entrepreneurs have a chance at making a significant dent in social issues. Untried and untested, new social entrepreneurs must keep their expectations low, focusing on what they can feasibly accomplish today rather than dreaming of big impacts tomorrow. Reasonably small goals are achievable, and they are more likely to be funded by angel investors who respect the vision and want to contribute to positive social change.
Build a Team Culture in the Workplace
No entrepreneur is an island, and social entrepreneurship is especially reliant on a team of passionate and dedicated workers. Social entrepreneurs need to assemble a team that is motivated by the opportunity to do good, but perhaps more importantly, they need to maintain that team through a strong and supportive workplace culture. Employees should be awarded responsibility as befits their knowledge and skill, and creativity should be celebrated alongside productivity. When a team feels empowered, they can work harder and avoid burnout — helping to accomplish the company’s goals and deliver much-needed social solutions.
Social entrepreneurship is punishing. Businesses dedicated to solving social problems are chronically underfunded, and only a small percentage of the workforce is willing to compromise their salary for marginal social change. However, in time, social entrepreneurship can have a positive effect, so social entrepreneurs need to do what they can to remain motivated despite the significant challenges to their success. Focusing on the temporary nature of setbacks and relying heavily on social support networks can get social entrepreneurs through the toughest times, so they might be able to see their vision realized.
Social entrepreneurs are the true heroes — but there are not nearly enough of them to solve all the problems facing society today. By following the above steps, any entrepreneur can become a social entrepreneur and make a difference.