WHAT IS A SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR?

Social Entrepreneurs are change-makers. They are the people who pioneer systemic and sustainable solutions to our social problems — and in doing so create role models that will be a “pattern for change” elsewhere in society.

They are one of our most important sources of social innovation — in welfare and healthcare, education and employment, housing, the environment, and in many other areas of economic and community development.

Like business entrepreneurs, they combine creativity with pragmatic skills to bring new ideas and services into reality. Like community activists, they have the determination to pursue their vision for social change relentlessly until it becomes a reality society-wide.

Social entrepreneurs can be found right across society — in the traditional public sector, in some large private sector corporations, in small-to-medium for-profit businesses with a social purpose, and at the most innovative edges of the voluntary and community sector.

Social entrepreneurs are not simply driven by the perception of a social need, or by their compassion towards problems. They are driven by what they can do about it. They want to reduce needs rather than just meeting them. They are driven to attack the underlying causes of a problem rather than simply treating its symptoms.

Social entrepreneurs want to create lasting improvements. They look for a long-term social return on their investments. Making a profit, creating wealth, or serving the desires of customers may be part of their business model ... but these are a means to their social end, and not the end in itself.

Social entrepreneurship involves a set of behaviours and skills that are exceptional. Many social sector leaders will exemplify these characteristics in different ways and to different degrees.

But what makes a social entrepreneur different is that they often excel at spotting unmet needs and mobilising under-utilised resources, people, buildings, equipment — to meet these needs. They are sometimes capable of creating impressive schemes with virtually no resources ... and are adept at building networks, new linkages and generating practical good will.

Social entrepreneurs excel at being learners. They are continuously engaged in a process of exploration and innovation, learning from feedback and then adapting their ideas and programmes to fit changing realities.

Social entrepreneurs thrive on the complexity which more static organisations find difficult to handle ... and they often find ways of combining approaches to social challenges that are traditionally kept separate. Their projects and organisations are capable of producing a huge diversity of financial, human and organisational “outcomes” ... many of which were unanticipated when they started.