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The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship

July 9th, 2011 · No Comments · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • Businesses can earn a profit and help better society at the same time.
  • Social entrepreneurship is a growing trend as we seek more meaning and fulfillment in our lives.

I am finding that people of all ages are increasingly searching for more meaning and fulfillment in work and life in general. There is much more to life than a good salary and conspicuous consumption. On my JetSetCitizen blog, I have interviewed dozens of digital nomads, perpetual travelers or location independents that are putting lifestyle ahead of materialism.

A great life is not just about leisure time and personal satisfaction; making a real difference in the world is also becoming an essential component. Entrepreneurship is often necessary to have the freedom to craft a perfect lifestyle, but an even more important factor is the opportunity to really create social good in the world.

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social Entrepreneurship is using business principles and practices in new ventures to bring about social change in the world. Profits are a by-product, or the organization will fail, but the real focus is to make a difference in the world.

Why isn’t Every Entrepreneur a Social Entrepreneur?

It is important to remember that our consumption oriented society is less than a century old. We have been trained to be consumers with insatiable wants and the planned obsolescence in all the things we buy is designed to generate more profits, not create societal value.

In the decades after WWII, affordable mass produced goods greatly increased living standards.  Large corporations mastered the art of mass advertising. Getting people to buy more goods and services, created jobs and real wealth. Life was good.

Little was known of the environmental and social consequences of those actions. Crime, obesity, pollution and all the other negative externalities of a consumer society were either non-existent or not understood. What was good for corporations, was good for individuals so everyone was happy.

Businesses don’t profit by getting us to spend less, conserve energy or be generous with our time and money. Companies want us to consume high margin products and services.

Fast food restaurants make more money selling sugared water and manufactured food, than anyone could by selling vegetables or advocating drinking tap water. How can carrots and broccoli compete with movie endorsed happy meals?

Wealth is Not Measured by GDP

The health of an economy is commonly measured by GDP growth, basically buying and selling more stuff. Clean air and water, safety, parks and wilderness, income equality, strong community, family values, general health levels and virtually everything that we consider priceless aren’t valued in gross domestic product.

An under-employed worker may only contribute $10,000 or $20,000 per year to a modern economy, however put that same individual in jail, with incarceration costs at more than $40,000 per year and you have doubled or quadrupled that individual’s contribution to economic growth.

There is a Better Way

When business oriented individuals create enterprises to alleviate societal ills, business transactions take place to satisfy the economists, but more importantly real social value or social capital is created that truly enriches the quality of life for recipients. It might not be as profitable as fast food hamburgers or financial derivatives, but there are opportunities to make a real impact in our communities. Profits alone are not a particularly good motivator, we all want to do something good in the world and social entrepreneurship might be the answer.

Social Entrepreneurship Examples

Grameen Bank – Provides no-collateral loans to the rural poor in Bangladesh

Fifteen – Jamie Oliver’s chef apprenticeship program for unemployed youth.

The Big Issue – Print magazine giving homeless an opportunity to earn an income.

The Eden Project – Promoting environmental and global awareness through arts and music events, education, gardens and social projects.

Acumen Fund – Invests in social enterprises.

Ashoka.org – Promoting social entrepreneurship for more than three decades.

If you know of more examples, please tell us in the comments. I would love to create a directory of social entrepreneurship initiatives around the world.

Action Items

  • Can you shift your business to more socially beneficial activities?
  • Can you employ, educate or help socially disadvantaged in your community?
  • How much money do you need to earn? How about reinvesting the surplus into social change?
  • Having difficulty finding meaning and fulfillment in your life? Perhaps you should start thinking of how you can give more to those in need. The greatest happiness comes from contribution not consumption.

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