What is Social Entrepreneurship?

All about the hype on ‘Social Entrepreneurship’

A world today is probably the most vivid place to be for innovative minds – minds which dare to think beyond the usual – minds which care – minds which want to bring a change.

The best part about being a part of today’s world is that you can connect with anyone across the globe and this mere fact has led to revolutionaries changes in terms of health, education, businesses, technology – just to name a few. Technology has changed the very definition of life. But then when you have the pros as one side of the coin, there are cons as well.

Modern Social & Environmental concerns

We see the world doomed by numerous troubles – Poverty, Hunger, Social injustice, Migration, Climate change, Environmental degradation, Diseases, Famines, Wars and Terrorism. Every region or country today faces its own set problems.

We see Syria & Levant facing terrorism which is born out of extreme deprivation of water & food.

Just beneath we have Guinea & Ethiopia of Africa – bestowed by the nature with bountiful natural resources but poverty, diseases, social injustice and a lack of political will has tamed the fate of these countries.

Let’s not forget, the super rich countries of North America also have their own issues with immigration  & never ending pollution.

Many low lying European countries near the Mediterranean – Malta, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, etc. – today are worried about the rising sea levels.

The Arctic countries like Denmark (Greenland), USA (Alaska), Canada & Norway have been experiencing extreme winters owing to climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia faces an immediate threat of ocean acidification & a possibility of extinction of the beautiful aquatic life.

And then there is certainly danger to the environment with its flora & fauna endangered with extinction. There are cities polluted with excess wastes. There are millions living without basic – nutritious food, hygienic water, permanent shelter & clothes. Millions living in poverty with either no resources to make a living or no opportunities to market their skills. There are women striving hard to be treated equals and are yearning for a means of livelihood and there are children hoping to be educated.

The story of these economic, social & environmental concerns is so perplexed that no generalised opinion can be formed on issues of a particular region. But we all can agree that economic, social & environmental problems are more or less intertwined and hence the solutions.

These social and environmental issues are beyond international boundaries and have been drawing the attention of many individuals & organisations lately. Hundreds of NGOs, thousands of leaders & a million volunteers work day in and day out to aid people across the globe and make their lives better.

The Good Samaritan

Of the 8 billion population the world has today, at least a million have gone beyond the usuals to help their fellow being as well as fellow inhabitants of this planet. Drawn by a strong sense of altruism, community engagement, generosity, compassion and sympathy, hundreds and thousands of teamed up and volunteered to make this world a better place.

In their personal capacity as well, we know of doctors who treat under-privileges for a free or lesser fee, we know business-men donating millions to charity, we know of nurses serving in Somalia, we also know of up-grades from developed countries educating children in Africa and the list goes on.

All these are acts of kindness and unconditional service to the world. But then one must wonder, can something more be done?

What is Social Entrepreneurship

A little beyond the common, many youths – being passionately driven to the cause of bettering the society – treat the societal & environmental problems more like a problem for which a solution should be devised. They treat these major social & ecological issues as an opportunity to make an impact to change the usual pattern of the life cycle and at the same time make a modest contribution to the society by devising practical and sustainable solutions.

Robert Kennedy, former attorney journal of the United States of America rightly said “There are those who look at the things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

Little would he have realised that these powerful words bear in them the very foundation of what today’s analysts call ‘Social Entrepreneurship’.

The concept of ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ has been budding in the past few decades and has made deep roots in the hearts of many. Stories from across the globe with millions and millions of people going out of the way to others’ lives better have become the favourites of many reputed journals & magazines.

Below are a few well-known stories of how people like you and me made an impact and brought a huge difference to the lives of millions.

Let’s take a quick look at world-famous examples of Social Organisations. Started by a mere sense solicitude for fellow humans, these movements set examples and become a medium of the motivation of the millions who wish to make a difference.

Ryan’s Well Foundation


A regular kid Ryan Hreljac was just 6 when he learnt from his elementary teacher that people were dying because they didn’t have clean water to drink. Moved by the realisation, Ryan figured it would cost $70 to drill a well and decided to do chores so he could have enough money. Soon he learnt that $70 won’t be enough and he would actually need $2,500 to help people. This didn’t let him down – he just did more chores.

The word spread quickly and with support from his family, friends, neighbours, and people from far ‘Ryan’s Well Foundation’ began in 2001. The vision that every person on this planet deserves clean water has somehow spread across the globe and Ryan’s Well Foundation has contributed to building more than 1,277 water projects – bringing clean water & sanitation services to more than a  million people so far.

For more on Ryan’s Well Foundation, visit https://www.ryanswell.ca/

Muhammad Yunus & Grameen Bank


Bangladesh was struck by severe famine and people didn’t have money to buy even raw materials to make a finished produced for the market. Mohammad Yunus, an economics professor was the first to start the microcredit movement by lending $27 loan. Soon he lent money to 42 women to purchase bamboo so that they could make & sell stools.

The women were able to repay the loan in a short time. Grameen banks were established and we know today how successfully the market is driven by microcredits.

For more on Grameen banks, visit https://grameenfoundation.org/muhammad-yunus

Pwani Feeds – A social enterprise in Kenya


Driven by the plight of poultry farmers and small scale rural farmers, Shem and Faith Mwaura in 2002 planned to include them in value chains. There was a very distant relationship between the farmers and the consumers because of which the intermediaries benefitted and the farmers earned poorly. The Pwani Feeds company’s holistic chain approach brings the farmers and the end-consumer closer by elimination infrastructural inefficiencies and readily available market for eggs & farm produce. The company employs around 120 permanent employees and works with around 3,000 farmers directly. They have worked their way to create employment as well improved the living of many farmers.

For more on Pwani Feeds, visit http://global-growing.org/en/content/global-growing-casebook-insights-african-agriculture


So what exactly is ‘social entrepreneurship’?

Social Entrepreneurship Elaborated

Simply put, social entrepreneurship is ‘to devise innovative initiatives to help people, to include the marginalized people into the economy & to create actual, large scale social change’. It is ‘to apply innovative, practical and sustainable approaches to benefit society in general, with and emphasis on those who are marginalised and poor’.

Social entrepreneurship is about working for the society & environment and at the same time making profits out of it. The entire concept lays on the principle of sustainable development. Sustainable development is defined as a development which encompasses ‘social, economic & environmental’ development.

Social entrepreneurs mainly focus on generating ideas which address a social problem. They work to ensure sustainability by treating social & environmental problems as business opportunities. They tap the market at the Bottom of the Pyramid and drive innovations which create value to such business in society. Working with a team of enthusiasts equally sensitive to the cause has always proved to be an advantage for social entrepreneurs.

From water to waste, health to education and wildlife to ecology – different areas of challenges are addressed by people. But the most essential part is being sensitive and passionately involved for the cause.

For more on social entrepreneurship by Forbes, visit this page.

How To Become a Social Entrepreneur

Taking a decision to aid the society is the first step to social entrepreneurship but it is essential to decide the way ahead.

When watching problems with every second step you take and with all the sympathy you have, deciding your area of action and taking up a cause as a goal might seem a bit hazy. But you can always know your role.

The best way to figure out what area you would like to work is by trying it all. You can work with organisations or NGOs working in different fields like environment, poverty, women empowerment, nutrition, wildlife conservation or alike.

Volunteering with such organisations gives you a glimpse of what the trouble is and how much would you want to involve yourself in it. Volunteering at social organisations have known to produce those of the best leaders we know. Most importantly, it gives a clear idea of what your conscience is driven towards. What is it that you feel so passionately about? What is it that you wish to change? What impact do you want to create?

Get a team of like-minded people and devise possible solutions

Once you know which social or environmental problem you want to take up as a challenge, the next very important task is to decide if you want to do it on your own or with people involved.

It’s rightly said If you want to go fast, walk alone. But if you want to go far, get a good company”.

Having a team of like-minded people helps you to get a multidimensional perspective of a single problem. It helps make productive contacts, more information & more ideas.

More the ideas, more the perspectives and better the decisions.

Brainstorming on the issues and possible solutions among peers have been an age-old remedy to almost every business strategy. Promoting open-conversations, debates & a flat organisation are a key to the success of any social enterprise.

But the roles and responsibilities of every team member need to be carefully assigned and monitored.

It is essential that each member honestly serves his responsibility. Social enterprises are driven majorly for a cause, and valuing the cause should be the core value of every team member.

Mission and Vision Statements

Another aspect of starting a social enterprise and sustaining it is the reason, motivation and its core values. These form the base to the mission and the vision statements of the Enterprise.

It is essential that the mission and vision are clearly stated and defined as mission statement & vision statement.

The mission statement is meant to be short, sweet and unambiguous to read. It should cover immediate goals and targets. Mission statements are like benchmarks of your enterprise. They set goals and keep you pushing to achieve those targets.

The vision statement is more of a broad, futuristic version of your enterprise’s definition of an ideal world. It defines the core values of the enterprise and should essentially create a powerful impact on the minds of the people.

To know more on mission & vision statements, visit this resource. 


For Profit or Non-profit

Taking up to social entrepreneurship takes a lot more than just motivation. It takes your time, energy, capital and a lot more.

Figuring how the fund flows into the enterprise and how it is utilised, is of foremost priority. A regular flow of capital ensures growing and expanding work.

That’s where the major decision comes in – that is if you want your organisation to be working without profits or make profits when bettering community.

Social enterprises can majorly be:

  • Unincorporated non-profit groups: An Unincorporated non-profit group is a group that has no legal status and whose mission is to solve a social problem. It is mostly two or more individuals who share one or more goals and have a sense of common identity. The group is organized around a set of rules and roles.
  • Non Profit Corporations: Non-profit organisations are legally established groups. Such organisations have a well-defined charter and may also be exempted by governmental taxes. The people responsible for directing the organizations (board of directors or trustees) can’t be paid – they are volunteers.  They may, however, hire staff for pay, including an executive director, who implements board decisions and policy.
  • For-Profit Corporations: A for-profit corporation is a legally established group. In a for-profit corporation, everyone may be and usually is, paid for his work, including the board of directors, owners, and shareholders. It thus does not qualify as a charity and doesn’t have governmental tax exempt.

Profit is the money left over after all the expenses of the enterprise have been met, including the wages and benefits of paid staff.

Owing to the suitability of the members, the vision of the enterprise & the need to the society, a practical decision is taken as to what would be the framework of the enterprise, given that each of the types has its own pros and cons.

The legal framework of an enterprise also depends on the policies of the country & acceptance of the local people.

The corporate version of Social Entrepreneurship – Social Intrapreneurship

We know how Corporate Social Responsibility has become an important arm of every multinational & reputed corporation. Many countries like India have a law mandating companies spare a certain amount of their profits for the social upliftment, better health for all, environmental protection, women empowerment, etc.

The world today has at least a million firms working in different sectors – power, infrastructure, artificial intelligence, telecom, hospitality, food processing, education, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and a lot more.

The whole idea of Social Intrapreneurship revolves around the fact that people inside a firm – working for that firm – know well what that firm can do as their contribution of the society.

So let’s suppose I am working in a high-end cloth manufacturing company which exports expensive garments in developed countries like the USA, UK & France. Now I know that a lot of cloth is wasted in my company after the finished garments are produced. All this cloth lands up in dump yards. As a good employee as well as a concerned citizen what can I do?

I can propose a plan wherein the waste cloth be made into garments or bags and be shipped to underdeveloped nations at lower costs. This plan would not just save fabric from landfills, but also increase company revenue & at the same time provide clothing to people in poorer nations.

A number of companies are looking at social intrapreneurship as an attractive option in a way to set up an in-house CSR team. It sums up technical expertise with social obligations giving innovative customized solutions for a vast section of the society.

Takes from Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is definitely the business model of the future. A single model with multiple rewards.

Working and building an enterprise as a social entrepreneur is a lot more than just making profits by addressing social & environmental challenges.

It is a saga of Personal enrichment from cherished experiences, Self-actualization through the development of skills, abilities, and knowledge, Self-expression by using the skills, abilities, and knowledge that you’ve already developed, Enhanced self-image by becoming known to others as a particular kind of serious leisure participant.

Self-gratification via a combination of enjoyment and satisfaction — also known as fun or, for the slightly more hip, flow, Re-creation or regeneration of oneself, often especially gratifying after an obligatory workday and Social attraction by associating with other serious leisure participants and in the social world of the activity.

Working for the community, bettering it giving sustainable solutions and also monetizing the entire concept is an  

Earth5R – A Social enterprise based in India

Social entrepreneurs – time and beyond – have gone out of the way to create an impact to bring a positive social and environmental change. The passion and the drive to do something better when combined with innovative ideas and a correct team can successfully emerge as a sustainable model which be monetized for the benefits of many.

Earth5R is a similar social enterprise. Founded in 2014 by Saurabh Gupta, currently, Earth5R is the World’s largest citizen-led environmental movement.

ACT Global Project by Earth5R focuses on creating Zero Waste communities while reducing poverty and restoring the local ecosystem which aims to make localities sustainable by engaging citizens, volunteers, marginalized communities, governments and corporates into a comprehensive sustainable development program. A global community of 35,000 people from around the planet drive this mission. Earth5R has its presence in over 25 countries across the globe and is recognised as a UNESCO Green Citizens organisation.

The 5Rs of Earth5R refer to 5 Earth values: Respect, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore. The mission of ACT Global is to drive a sustainable change by empowering communities through social entrepreneurship, and by building a model of Action, Collaboration and Transformation (ACT). Earth5R specialises in sustainable development, with a specific focus on women and economic inclusion.

ACT Global project is based on four pillars: Sustainable Ecosystems, Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Communities, and Sustainable Businesses. ACT Powai project was the starting point of this journey.

Under the ACT project Earth5R partners with local businesses, schools, institutes and citizens  in the neighborhood to volunteer for various projects like clean-ups, tree plantations etc., educate and empower the local underprivileged community by generating livelihood programs and conducting skill-based activities fostering independence among them and also encourage these institutions to contribute towards a better neighborhood by participating in CSR activities.

A part of this is providing sports bags to children of underprivileged communities. Under this program, Earth5R employs the services of women from the local slums to stitch sports bags out of used and discarded denim, bed-covers and other waste material. These bags are then be distributed to the children of MCGM schools who are financially challenged to afford bags for carrying their sports gear.

The aim of this project is manifold, the first being promoting good health through sports among MCGM school children, second, providing a source of livelihood to women from the local community and third, reducing the burden on landfills by upcycling discarded waste cloth.

With this project, we create a mini circular economy in our vicinity that will tackle important issues of poverty, waste reduction and sustainable living and generating equal opportunities for the underprivileged children.

ACT project has now spread to 35 cities across India. Recently the project was showcased to 75 Heads of Nations and the UN General Secretary at Paris Peace Forum in November last year. ACT was the only community-based sustainability project selected from India for the Paris Peace Forum.

Earth5R aims to go on and beyond the international barriers to educate masses about the need to conserve the only mother Earth, educating people about efficient ways of consuming resources and establishing network to provide sustainable means of livelihood to the underprivileged people.

The Future

Social entrepreneurship is more about providing a sustainable living to the deprived ones by devising methods to give them a modest source of earning. Charity is short term – for you feed a person for just one day; Social entrepreneurship is is a cycle – for it connects and innovates the entire chain of producers, suppliers & consumers by taping the uncharted waters of social ill and environmental degradation.

There would soon be a time when the businesses are run on the model that would be driven by people’s need rather than the manufacturer’s product. A balanced world is what we look forward to – balanced in terms of economy – balanced society & a balanced ecology.

– Written by Purva Mahtre

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