Social Entrepreneurship: Fad or Future?
In our fast-paced world of fads and trends, it sometimes feels like “the next big thing” comes and goes in a matter of days. “Social entrepreneurship” might seem like just another example of one of these temporary buzzwords. When we hear new terms like it thrown about in a million different contexts, they often end up feeling vague, ingenuine, and meaningless. When we say it so much, it’s like we’re not saying anything at all.
But we’ll make the case that social entrepreneurship is no mere buzzword, when properly applied at least. Rather than just another made-up corporate term, social entrepreneurship is truly a force to remake our global society for the better. To harness that potential power, we need to rediscover the roots of what it really is.
What is social entrepreneurship?
Among the various definitions, one simple way to think about social entrepreneurship is as a way to solve societal problems through market solutions; social entrepreneurs use their businesses to improve people’s lives beyond satisfying a “want” but instead by fulfilling a need.
In a sense, social entrepreneurship is like a happy medium between traditional entrepreneurship and charity work. On one hand, we have entrepreneurship in its purest form: innovating to supply a good or service to make as much profit from consumers as possible. While it’s true that this has driven global economic growth and innovation, it is also unsustainable and unfeeling. As long as profits are positive, traditional entrepreneurship allows for taking advantage of customers or inflicting negative externalities on society as a whole.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have charity: generally speaking, voluntary donations and labor to help those in need. Although a noble and necessary endeavor, unfortunately the world does not run on our noblest intentions. That is, we cannot completely disregard the market forces of supply and demand, the forces that drive people to pursue what they want rather than what others need.
Considering there are good and bad facets of both of these extremes, a logical conclusion is to find a solution in the middle: enter social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurs operate under the simultaneous goals of fulfilling societal needs and serving demand, making both of these goals more practical in the process. Their responsiveness to the market facilitates their positive social impact rather than interfering with it. We’ve previously written on the idea of harnessing capitalism, in new form, to do good; social entrepreneurship is one practical manifestation of this concept.
So what does this really mean?
“The new normal”: a phrase so cliché that it’s become cliché to even talk about how it’s cliché. Still, it’s undeniable that the coronavirus pandemic will forever reshape the world as we know it, in more ways than we can even imagine. Given the severe economic damage that it’s inflicted so far, the extensive rebuilding process will inevitably leave us with an economic landscape very different from pre-COVID times. So, if we’re going to have to make some changes to the way the world does business, we might as well change things for the better.
As we rethink the ways that we work, consume, and generally find purpose in life, we should all take some lessons from the philosophy behind social entrepreneurship.
So how can we all integrate this philosophy into our lives?
Become a social entrepreneur yourself - If you’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to do good, there’s no time like the present to turn your aspirations into reality. As the idea of work becomes increasingly flexible, going into business for yourself is getting more realistic for everybody. Since the pandemic (and our time reflecting during quarantine) has made us reconsider what we really value, the opportunity to start a social business is a great way to do something truly fulfilling.
Consider what you buy - Even if you’re not running a socially-minded business, your purchasing choices can still go a long way towards furthering social causes. Do a bit of research on the companies you normally support and consider their societal impact. If your purchases could probably be doing more to help others, look into the huge variety of great companies out there that are transforming society through their business, especially those run by traditionally marginalized groups.
Live your values - This piece of advice is the most general, which means that it’s also the most widely applicable. As we’ve seen, the underlying theme of social entrepreneurship is that we can use business to transform society for the better. Even if we’re not talking about doing good in a business context, we could all benefit from checking that our values are actually evident in everything that we do. If you care about moving the societal progress bar forward, take the time to make sure you’re actually making a positive impact in other’s lives with your actions.