5 thoughts for social entrepreneurs

1) Get Inspired

So, you want to engage with social problems to find solutions.  You recognize that there are clear benefits offered by social entrepreneurship to those involved with creating, promoting, and funding these ventures, and you see the potential value that social good ventures may bring to the world. You’ve decided that you have the creativity, motivation, entrepreneurship abilities, problem-solving skills, leadership abilities, empathy, and sense of self-efficacy for a life of innovating and leading social change.

This quote resonates:

“We believe people are basically good; we believe everyone has something to contribute; we believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people; we recognize and respect everyone as a unique individual; we encourage you to treat others the way you want to be treated.”

– Pierre Omidyar (co-founder of eBay and the Omidyar Network)

You are a unique individual.  And your unique thoughts and experiences DO have the potential to change the world.

The future is malleable, and you have the ability to change it. Now, what is your mission, and how will you accomplish it? Focus on that problem you want to solve or that vision for the world that inspires you.


2) Read

Part of getting inspired and building the future is to learn about what others have done that came before you. What obstacles have they faced in achieving their dreams?  What qualities do you have in common with these people who have accomplished so much? Whether you are just starting to conceptualize your idea or are on your way to scaling an existing venture, there are undoubtedly great takeaways from the following recommendations:


David Bornstein’s How to Change the World, Social Entrepreneurs, and the Power of New Ideas. This classic on social entrepreneurship profiles individuals from around the world who have found innovative solutions to a wide variety of social and economic problems.


Muhammad Yunus’s Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs. Professor Yunus pioneered microcredit and won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. This book explores development of a new dimension for capitalism called “social business.” This business model has been adopted by corporations, entrepreneurs, and social activists around the globe.


Neetal Parekh’s 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship Social Impact Through Business, An Actionable Q&A. Parekh anchors the book to her experiences founding early stage startups in Silicon Valley and her interview with over eighty international social impact thinkers and doers. This books is helpful if you are curious or overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possibilities in developing social enterprises.


Adam Grant’s Originals. Not limited to social entreprenership, but this book tells the story of those who have gone against the grain. “Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.”


3) Put your idea into the world (when getting started is the hardest part)

Ask for feedback on your idea from people you trust to be objective – it’s great to see how ideas take shape once you are outside of your own brain.  Also, you want to be able to create a brand that people can trust to accomplish your mission, and it’s helpful to gather the opinions and perspectives of others.


Concurrently with thinking and planning around your business, it’s important to ask the fundamental questions.  How will you create your first product?  Who is your audience or customer base? Do you have all the necessary skills to get started, or will you need help?


Then, get moving. Start taking steps to implement your idea.


In terms of financing, there are several options:

  • Bootstrapping (no external capital)
  • Bank loans
  • Microfinance
  • Crowdfunding (like UpEffect, clearly recommended!)
  • Alternative lenders (e.g. revenue based financing)
  • Government or institutional grants (e.g. Ashoka Fellowship)
  • Angel Investor or VC – this can be anything from a family member’s investment to traditional VC.


Luckily for social entrepreneurs, impact investing continues to see growth. In addition to financial returns, impact investors seek social change and environmental progress. Some examples of impact investors are Skoll and Omidyar Network.


4) Lay a road map to develop your product or service

For more structure and support in creating your business, social enterprise courses through communities like Acumen or Coursera can help you learn to develop your business plan, build a financial model, or scale your impact at a very low cost.  The inception of your idea through the building a successful venture may take time, but crafting a roadmap for yourself can help.  And, focus on building management practices to achieve social goals.

  • Employee Focus: Attention to hiring the right people, investing in their development, and effectively motivating them.
  • Effective Branding: Positioning the business as a thought leader, being at the forefront of capitalizing on emerging markets, investing time and money to promote the business, and engaging in social media.
  • Customer Leadership: Involves both the mindset of the leaders, as well as the company’s emphasis on managing relationships and meeting customer needs through quality products.
  • Results Management: Encompasses detailed planning and budgeting, cost management and measurement of results to improve performance.


5) Connect

Find an incubator, community, or mentor.  Surrounding yourself with experts in your field can only give you a leg up and keep you motivated on your journey.


Luckily, there are plenty of like-minded people out there to connect with and the social good ecosystem. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, over 4% of the UK adult working population is actively involved in socially entrepreneurial start-up activities.


Some possible communities to connect with are Ashoka Changemakers and Acumen Chapters.


Ideally, the more you connect with others, the more you will be inspired, and the more effectively you can create a vehicle to have your idea take shape in the world!

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