Entrepreneurship becomes a social endeavor when it converts social capital into benefits society can reap.
It’s rather interesting. When people think about entrepreneurship and the great entrepreneurs, their minds immediately deviate to people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg - generally entrepreneurs who have amassed substantial amounts of wealth, power and influence. Though such praise is entirely well deserved, it is rather disappointing to see the lack of exposure social entrepreneurship as a field receives on social media and mainstream media outlets, despite the massive impact it has on communities across the world. Do you need proof? Ask yourself – do you know who Bill Drayton is? If you said no, do not fear; you’re not in the minority even though Bill Drayton is widely cited as the greatest social entrepreneur of all time and is the person who coined the phrase “social entrepreneurship. It is no surprise though that despite the lack of mass attention, social entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing sects of entrepreneurship especially among millennials.
Social entrepreneurship can be defined in a variety of ways, but the essence of the field remains the same across the board. Social entrepreneurship represents the attempt made by business operators to employ traditional business practices to solve modern social, cultural and environmental issues. The field itself represents an attempt made by individuals to drive social change even if that means at the cost of numbers. Thus, social entrepreneurs not only factor their profit margin when calculating success, but also the positive impact they have had on society and the planet. Today advances in technology have guided social entrepreneurship to becoming one of the most accessible and attractive options for aspiring entrepreneurs. With little to no money, entrepreneurs around the world have started charities, non-profit organizations and even for-profit businesses that utilize a social model. That is the beauty of this particular field. It can not only be built from the ground up, but it can be integrated into existing businesses with relative ease. Social entrepreneurs who come from various walks of life differ in their paths to success, but largely perceive success in a similar way: helping foster micro-change that can be easily replicated and kept sustainable.
The flexible definition and relatively easy ability to integrate has made social entrepreneurial models more and more prominent. Brands like UNIQLO and TOM Shoes have led the charge by incorporating a social aspect to their business model. TOM Shoes for example, has a model where every shoe they sell automatically means they will donate one. Though in certain areas it has caused local apparel and footwear manufacturers to be harmed, this model has largely been focused at regions that have been crippled by corrupt bureaucracies and ongoing conflict. Interestingly, since TOM deployed this model in 2014, instead of harming their annual return, the model actually boosted their annual sales by over 215% in two years. It’s no surprise when one truly examines the primary reason for this. By deploying a social model in a competitive ecosystem where not many other business behemoths were, TOM immediately separated itself even further from its competitors and in essence, executed a PR masterstroke. This led many social entrepreneurs including myself to make a simple observation. Consumers in our day and age, who are barraged with advertisements, pitches, and proposals, strangely limit their decision-making in a world where our options have only vastly increased. That is to say, if I as a consumer was looking to engage with the modern marketplace, I am unlikely to seek out options to both satisfy my altruism and materialism. The two needs which conflict with one another are already crowded with options (there are so many charities one could support and so many businesses one could buy from), and thus, time and effort become two core factors that mean individuals are likely not to seek out both on a regular basis. So even if 50% of the adult population of Canada didn’t care about donating on a regular basis, social models allow businesses to inherently guide their consumers to doing a social good.
There are two key trends within the field that signal that social entrepreneurship will continue to spread as a force for good. Firstly, the significant rise in millennials engaging with the field. Over the last two years, approximately 1.7 million social ventures have been created and registered worldwide by people under the age of 20 alone. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus noted that social entrepreneurship bridges the gap between empathy and entrepreneurship and that millennials flooding the field is no surprise given that millennials tend to represent the most progressive demographic in their respective societies. There is another reason for this trend. In a world where many young people are immigrants, have verbal, physical, or mental impediments and/or are not situated in urban settings, social entrepreneurship is generally more receptive to this cross section of millennials than conventional business. This is partly due to the fact that the relevant questions within social entrepreneurship aren’t who are you (ie. educational background) and where you come from (ie. urban/rural divide), but are what is your idea and how do you plan to execute on it. The second trend that is important to highlight is the general rise in “social hubs” on open-sharing systems like Slack. In early 2016, platforms like Slack released interactive components that allow users to share their work, resources, and network easier than ever. These platforms noted that a significant group that utilizes this feature are self proclaimed social entrepreneurs who set up embedded groups they like to call “social hubs.” This has directly shown a continuous benefit the Internet and technology has provided to social entrepreneurs, in that they are able to collaborate with people who are not geographically close yet share similar goals on achieving a positive “return to society.”
Time will tell whether social entrepreneurship continues to accelerate forward in both its reach and impact. For now, social entrepreneurs like Bill Drayton can be rest assured that though their faces might not be well known, their impact will continuously be felt by communities worldwide.
Picture titled, "Toms at 4th of July", taken by Riley Kaminer on July 4, 2010 obtained through Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/8kgGfj)