Successful Social Entrepreneurs
Social entrepreneurship needs to be defined in a way that is consistent with what is known about entrepreneurship. We use “exceptional mind-set” as a broader term to encapsulate the characteristics that shape the entrepreneurial activities of those individuals.
Bill Drayton isn’t just a great example of a social entrepreneur, he actually helped to define and promote the term itself. Drayton is the founder and current chair of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, an organization that is dedicated to finding and helping social entrepreneurs around the world. Drayton’s philosophy of social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. To quote Drayton, “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.
TOMS founder Mycoskie makes this list because, unlike many of these other ventures, almost everyone with an awareness of pop culture has heard of this social brand. Mycoskie founded TOMS in 2006 after a visit to Argentina where he learned that many children get sick or injured because they do not have shoes to wear. To combat this, he created TOMS, a business that donates one pair of shoes to needy people for every pair that’s bought. So far, the company has donated more than a million pairs of shoes. In 2011, the company launched another initiative which aims to give away a pair of glasses or sight-saving surgery for every pair of sunglasses or glasses sold.
Blue Ventures organizes projects that rally coastal communities in the developing world around local conservation efforts. “Typically conservation alienates people,” Blue Ventures founder Alasdair Harris says. “It has the opposite of the effect that it needs to achieve.” That’s why the main focus of his organization, founded in 2003, is to demonstrate the benefits environmental projects can yield. “If we can succeed in doing it, then I believe we can have a chance of growing conservation to a completely different scales. One of Harris’s first demonstrations involved temporarily cordoning off an octopus-fishing area in Madagascar. By allowing the ecosystem to rebuild, octopus and other sea life flourished, leading to an increase in catch and profits. Blue Ventures has since carried out similar projects in Fiji, Malaysia, and Belize. Harris says his organization’s income last year was more than $1.4 million.
Educate Girls has two main goals. First, to bring Indian girls who aren’t in school into the education system. And second, once they are there, to make sure that they are really learning. Founder Safeena Husain employs a very hands-on approach to make this all happen. In order to find girls who aren’t in the classroom, her staff must go door to door.
“[We find out,] are there 50 girls in a village out of school, or five?” Husain explains. “And once we know exactly who they are, then we conduct village meetings and get the village leadership, the teacher, the headmaster, the parents, everybody involved.” Changing entrenched views about girls and education is a long-term process, she says, but so far her organization’s efforts have helped to educate 1.3 million children, including more than 80,000 girls that it has brought into the school system.
These are just examples of successful entrepreneurs and how they started. They are ambitious, they tackle major social issues,from increasing the college enrollment rate of low income students to fighting poverty. They are also mission driven. While wealth creation may be part of the process, it is not an end in itself. Promoting systemic social change is the real objective. And like the best business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs are intensely focused and hard-driving in their pursuit of a social vision. Resourcefulness. Because social entrepreneurs operate within a social context rather than the business world, they have limited access to capital and traditional market support systems. Results oriented. Social entrepreneurs are driven to produce measurable returns. These results transform existing realities, open up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged, and unlock society’s potential to effect social change. These are just some of the unique characteristics a successful social entrepreneur must possess.