David Proakis
School Without Walls Senior High School
Washington, DC
12th Grade
1st Place, District of Columbia

"Which will do more to improve life in the United States over the next decade, business entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs? Why?"

     The question presented for the Essay Competition can have infinite points of view depending on how “to improve life” is defined. This goes to the direct question of whether an improved life means economic wealth and achievement, which favors the interests of business entrepreneur, or whether improved life means less measurable factors such as happiness, education, health, decent housing and all other concepts that favor the interests of social entrepreneurs. Franklin Roosevelt said that “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”1 The question is how do we provide enough for those who have too little – is it the business entrepreneur, or the social entrepreneur? 

     Dictionary.com defines entrepreneur as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” The business entrepreneur isn’t necessarily focused on profits at the expense of social change and the social entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily focus only on social change and ignore profits. Furthermore, the two types of entrepreneurs are not mutually exclusive in their efforts. The efforts for a business entrepreneur are to make and sell a product or service to generate cash flow and profits. The efforts of a social entrepreneur are to develop an enterprise, or business, for the primary purpose of solving social issues. Social entrepreneurs trying to both make money and benefit a social mission are often playing a game of chicken and egg, having to decide which comes first: their social cause or their bottom line.2 The outcome for each type of entrepreneur is to generate income – whether to be treated as a profit and distributed to the business owners/shareholders, or to be used in furtherance of a social cause. Both types of entrepreneurs need to ultimately generate income to be successful. Success for the business entrepreneur is measured in the profit created and success for the social entrepreneur is the degree to which social change is made. For the social entrepreneur the profit is a tool to be used in furtherance of her goals. Profit is not the ultimate goal. 

     The question then becomes which type of entrepreneur can 1) generate income most effectively and 2) ultimately direct it to be used to improve life and provide benefits for those that have too little? But a dichotomy is created with this question because of the ultimate goal of each type of entrepreneur. One has the primary interest to generate profits and the other has the primary interest to create social change. There are two approaches to resolve this issue. 

     The first is to encourage business entrepreneurs to create income and wealth and ultimately distribute a significant portion of this for social purposes. An effective, although extreme, effort to accomplish this is The Giving Pledge. The Giving Pledge targets the wealthiest in our society and asks them to make a moral pledge to contribute more than half of their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes to help address society’s problems.3 There are currently over 100 “billionaires” that have taken the pledge.4 A single participant, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has a current endowment of $38.3 billion dollars and has awarded grants of $27.6 billion dollars since its inception for a multitude of socially beneficial programs.5 An additional benefit of entities created in The Giving Pledge is that with significant funding the resulting organization created to manage these funds is focused entirely on the social concerns it is addressing without regard to generating income or additional funding. 

     The second approach to resolve the dichotomy is to ensure that the social entrepreneur recognizes that generating profit (through sales of services and products, or fundraising) is a fundamental part of achieving its societal goals; however, there is disagreement among social entrepreneurs about this effort. Debbie Sterling is the founder of GoldieBlox, a toy manufacturer that has as its sole mission to create and sell toys that engage girls to become involved in engineering. To remind everyone of the company’s focus, there is a large sign at the office that says “The Mission is Greater Than the Company”.6 Robin Chase, a social entrepreneur and founder of ZipCar and other companies that work to give people accessibility and reduce pollution, says having a “social goal as No. 1 is inadequate and won’t make you successful, recognizing that significant capital and for-profit business models are needed for organizations to operate successfully.”7 Although Sterling and Chase disagree on the mission and focus of their businesses, they do share a common goal – both are expanding and creating organizations with the intent to earn money and allow them to continue their social missions. 

     Both the business entrepreneur and the social entrepreneur do share common goals; raising money and creating profits. Is it more effective to “convert” the business entrepreneurs into using their talents and success to achieve societal goals with programs similar to The Giving Pledge, or is it more effective to give social entrepreneurs the tools and incentives they need to manage both raising funds and managing businesses and organizations for social change? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has achieved over $65 billion in endowment and awards to date; and they are only one of the over 100 members of the group. If their talents are also utilized to assist the individual social entrepreneurs to grow their organizations and achieve their social missions, there can be much success amongst these organizations. Not only can they focus on their social missions, but they can have direction and expertise of those who are successful in business. 

     Looking at the business and social entrepreneurs referenced in this essay, it is unfair to classify them as “business” or “social”. Both have specific goals and missions. Both have a need to earn profits or to raise funds to continue to achieve their goals and missions. Which will do more to improve life in the United States in the future and allow for those who have too little to improve their lives? It is the business entrepreneur. Not in terms of having a better vision of social needs, but in terms of being able to more effectively generate the funding that allows social needs to be met and to more readily allow the social entrepreneurs to achieve their visions. 

Works Cited

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937
  2. Clifford, Catherine. "For Social Entrepreneurs, What Comes First: Business or Mission." Entrepreneur. 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.
  3. "The Giving Pledge: Frequently Asked Questions." The Giving Pledge. Web. 02 Nov. 2013.
  4. "The Giving Pledge: Frequently Asked Questions."
  5. "Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation." GatesFoundation.org. Web. 01 Nov. 2013.
  6. Clifford, Entrepreneur.
  7. Clifford, Entrepreneur