When entrepreneurs exercise social conscience, everyone benefits

Michigan State University Extension encourages social entrepreneurism through the Creating Entrepreneurial Communities program.

Sometimes entrepreneurs find that it is good business to focus on a mission that contributes back to the community for the public good. And sometimes nonprofit agencies start a mission-based business that contributes back to their bottom line. Both of these are examples of social entrepreneurship and a model of business that continues to thrive in popularity.

Social entrepreneurs are change agents with a social mission. They want to change a system to improve the community or make the world a better place. The difference between a social entrepreneur and a business entrepreneur is mission. That is, while wealth creation and satisfying the needs of customers may factor into the business model, the true gauge of success for the social entrepreneur, is positive and longer-term social improvement and impact. An example might be developing a business that addresses issues in the area of economic justice, tolerance, environmental sustainability, social equity, or human rights. Organizational examples would include Habitat for Humanity starting its Restore home resale shop or an animal shelter starting a dog training or grooming business.

Like other entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs are driven by their passion and vision. They seek to overcome obstacles, look for opportunities, innovate, make changes and adapt. They do this by seeking resources and creating ventures of social value. While unconventional and willing to take risks just like other entrepreneurs they treat failure as a learning experience, not as a personal tragedy.

According to Gregory Dees of the Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University, an idealized definition of a social entrepreneur would include someone who plays a role as a change agent in the social sector and who focuses on:

  • Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value)
  • Recognizing and pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation and learning
  • Acting boldly without being limited by current resources
  • Maintaining accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created

Call it corporate responsibility, strategic philanthropy, or social entrepreneurship. Taking on an issue or condition to improve it for the public can yield positive results and benefits for all concerned. The Kauffman Foundation is great resource for information related to entrepreneurship. The Skoll Foundation awards grants to organizations for social entrepreneurship on a global level.

Michigan State University Extension offers support for social entrepreneurs through a variety of programs including Creating Entrepreneurial Communities and MSU Product Center.

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