For centuries, we were witness to people and profit being at opposite ends of the spectrum in the business context. Conventionally, private enterprise has been seen to be motivated by profit, while welfare has been considered the duty of the State.
Any gaps in the State’s net were traditionally filled by NGOs (non-governmental organisations) who worked, more often than not, on a charitable basis. However, in the recent times, I see a new breed of entrepreneurs emerging. Social entrepreneurs who recognize social challenges around them, and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, build and manage social ventures to achieve desired social, economic and ecological changes.
The fundamental difference is that unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, who typically measure performance in terms of profit and return, a social entrepreneur also measures positive returns to society; thus focusing on transforming systems and practices that are the root causes of poverty, marginalization, ecological deterioration and accompanying loss of human dignity.
In doing so, these entrepreneurs set up for-profit or not-for-profit organizations. Thus, moving onto the humane side of fulfilling the needs of a wider social, cultural and ecological aspect both in the semi-urban and rural sectors.
Working closely with the small business sector, I know that the establishment and growth of a social small business can especially be rough! There are multiple hurdles like finding and retaining suitable talent, finding investors who believe in your cause as much as you do, raising capital, and building the value chain for sustainability.
Becoming a social entrepreneur doesn’t mean becoming a philanthropist, activist or working like the CSR wing of a company. Social entrepreneurial ventures believe that it is possible to introduce systems – changing solutions that can create a measurable impact, while still making fair profit. And this desire to make a difference has seen the number of social entrepreneurs climbing every day.
Being a social entrepreneur is not very different from being an entrepreneur in any other field. Many of the principles, as well as the challenges, remain the same. After all, you are not in it for charity. The only difference is that economic or social upliftment is as important as profit when setting and measuring goals. Here are some things to keep in mind:
• Have a mission statement to create and sustain the social value
• Recognize and persistently pursue new opportunities to serve that mission
• Be in a state of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning so as to cope with challenges
• Act fearlessly without being bogged down by resource crunch
• Showcase a heightened sense of accountability in each and every step Social entrepreneurship need not be restricted to a region or even a country. A few examples of social entrepreneurs whose systems-changing solutions have had global impact include Muhammad Yunus, founder and manager of Grameen Bank and its growing family of social venture businesses, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Some others in the Forbes Impact 30 include names like Rafael Alvarez of Genesys Works, which teaches low-income high school juniors basic IT skills like installing and troubleshooting software, then placing them in paid internships, hoping they’ll land steady jobs after graduation. Martin Fisher and Nick Moon from KickStart develop low-cost, high-impact products –including a brick press and a machine that makes cooking oil from sunflower seeds.
In India too, there has been a significant rise of social small businesses like – Agastya International Foundation by Ramji Raghavan, Selco India by Harish Hande, click2plant.com by Upendra Agrawal and Jiten Agrawal, Daily Dump by Poonam B Kastturi and many others.
The National Social Entrepreneurship Forum (NSEF) founded in 2009, helps social enterprises to address their biggest challenges by connecting them to talent equipped with the right skills and mindsets to jumpstart their growth. NSEF has created a multiplier effect by supporting a number of young social entrepreneurs, impacting thousands of lives in India.
Also, leading academic institutes TISS and NMIMS have come up with course modules to help aspiring students become the role models of tomorrow’s social small businesses. The road ahead for social small businesses, though filled with many challenges – like balancing the two supposed extremes of profitability and social change, and getting access to funding – is one that is filled with huge potential.
However, with more and more people dreaming big about social entrepreneurship, and talented individuals ready to turn this dream into reality, I have to say that the future looks bright.