School Without Walls Senior High School
3rd Place, District of Columbia
Social Entrepreneurs For a Change
When Eugene Lang created REFAC Technology Development Corporation in 1951 to patent technology devices, he probably did not imagine that three decades later he would become a social entrepreneur. In 1981 Lang created the I Have A Dream Foundation to empower children from low-income households to pursue their education and career goals and in 2001 launched Project Pericles, a non-profit organization made up of liberal arts colleges to educate on social responsibility. As a result of his efforts, lives were changed, institutions were improved, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Many people believe the best system for growth and prosperity in our country rests in the free enterprise system. And while it is true that business holds the key to growth, especially in the creation of much-needed jobs, in the coming decade social entrepreneurs will play a critical role in this country by tackling some of our most important challenges. As the United States faces the continued effects of racism and prejudice, integration of immigrant populations, gender inequity, climate change, a growing elderly population and so much more, there are people who can help fix these problems, and they are social entrepreneurs.
The business entrepreneur is more familiar. A business entrepreneur finds an opportunity and works to satisfy customer needs, provide growth for shareholders, expand the influence of his or her business, and to expose that business to as many people as they can.1 But it is entirely possible for a business leader whose primary goal is to make money to also address a social issue in the process.
In contrast, a social entrepreneur can be defined as a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change. There are many social entrepreneurs whose endeavors make money. The difference: a social entrepreneur has the primary goal of making change.
“One of the newest figures to emerge on the world stage in recent years is the social entrepreneur,” according to Thomas L. Friedman, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator. “This is usually someone who burns with desire to make a positive social impact on the world . . . . I have come to know several social entrepreneurs in recent years, and most combine a business school brain with a social worker's heart. The triple convergence and the flattening of the world have been a godsend for them. Those who get it and are adapting to it have begun launching some very innovative projects.”
To be sure, there have been and are business leaders whose work have crossed over into larger social change. Take Henry Ford for example. He invented the car and, as a result, revolutionized the automobile industry and made money for himself and his investors. But he also changed the way people interacted with each other as a result of easier transportation. As well, he created a new and better dynamic between employers and employees, by paying higher wages than other employers at the time, teaching workers how to save and spend responsibly, and insisting on workplace safety standards. Therefore, he could fit the definition of the business entrepreneur or the social entrepreneur.
Like Eugene Lang, real estate developer James Rouse squarely moved towards social entrepreneurship with his creation of the city of Columbia, Maryland.2 He created this city to achieve several goals: to build a complete city that would be multi-cultural, inter-racial, multi-faith, and economically diverse, respect the land, and make a profit for the developers. Almost 50 years since its inception, Columbia still serves as an example of the intersection of “doing well and doing good.” Columbia did make a profit for its investors and did accomplish its other goals.
It is the primary focus on making change for the benefit of society that truly differentiates the social entrepreneur and, for those reasons, gives them a unique and needed place in society.
William “Bill” Drayton, is one such individual. Drayton, considered to be the “godfather of social entrepreneurship,” founded Ashoka, a company whose mission is to identify upcoming social entrepreneurs and help them advance closer to their goal through a venture approach.4
Ashoka today partners with other 70 countries, has more than 3,00 fellows, and has over $32 million in endowment in public support. Approximately 200 of those fellows are from the United States, mostly seeking to reform public education and microfinance.
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry,” according to Drayton.
Blake Mycoskie is a social entrepreneur whose product is better known than his own name. Mycoskie founded TOMS in 2006 with the plan that when a buyer purchases a pair of TOMS (shoes), the company, in turn, donates a pair of shoes to a person in need. TOMS has just launched “Marketplace,” an online platform that hosts some 200 products for sale to U.S. consumers from 30 social entrepreneurs with mission-driven business approaches. According to TOMS, the products on the site come from companies that have been vetted as following through on their social and philanthropic claims.
“The social entrepreneurship movement is made up of a lot of like-minded individuals, and in many ways it’s a fraternity of people who want to do business differently,” Mycoskie said, in announcing Marketplace. “We believe our customers – and even those who aren’t necessarily customers – trust the TOMS brand and what we stand for. They are coming to our website because they want to buy or give a gift that gives back.”
Other social entrepreneurs are more local in their reach and approach. Simone and Jake Bernstein founded VolunTEEN Nation in 2009 (at ages 17 and 15, respectively) to list volunteer opportunities for young people in St. Louis, Missouri. Today VolunTEEN Nation offers community service, volunteer projects, research and grants, and guidance for young people. Twenty-nine year old Lily Liu created a program that improves New York City call centers so that all city residents can request graffiti be moved from properties. Liu’s PublicStuff now advocates civic engagement from city residents to community leaders to better the city.
Like their business entrepreneur counterparts, social entrepreneurs find a need, a gap, a problem or a challenge and step in to fill it. Beyond economic security issues, the challenges in America today are plentiful and provide great material for social entrepreneurs. A recent Gallup poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults identified the top problems facing the country as dissatisfaction with government, health care, immigration, homelessness and poverty, education and war as top problems.
The social entrepreneurship movement is considered by some to still be in its early stages, but it is growing in impact, support and profile.
President Obama established the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and outlined an impressive five-point policy plan for social enterprise: Social Investment Fund Network, social entrepreneurship agency for nonprofits, promote college serve-study, engage retiring Americans in service on a large scale, and new energy for America.5 As this plan continues to grow with our country, more enterprise businesses are following the model for the president’s policy, hoping to improve social entrepreneurship in this country.
Today there are more than 30 colleges and universities with social entrepreneur programs, educating and training individuals for work as social entrepreneurs.
Forbes Magazine in 2011 published a list of the top social entrepreneurs, recognizing their impact and growing significance to the nation’s landscape.
Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and creator of the concepts of microfinance and microcredit, once said, “I’m encouraging young people to become social business entrepreneurs and contribute to the world, rather than just making money. Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.”
What separates America from so many other nations is the freedom of choice of our citizens. For some, the calling to start a new business will prevail. For others, it will be pure public service. A growing number, though, will find themselves wanting to work at the crossroads of business and social change, compelled to answer the question posed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”
1. "The Difference Between Social And Business Entrepreneurship." Social Entrepreneurship Info. Social Entrepreneurship Info, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <http://socialentrepreneurshipinfo.com/the-difference-between-social-and-business-entrepreneurship/>.
2. Tocco, Peter. "James Rouse, Visionary Urbanist." Bridge Columbia. One Bridge, One Columbia, 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2013. <http://bridgecolumbia.org/background/james-rouse-visionary-urbanist-and-developer/>.
3. Thornley, Ben. "The Facts on U.S. Social Enterprise." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 08 Nov. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-thornley/social-enterprise_b_2090144.html>.
4. "Ashoka - Innovators for the Public." Ashoka - Innovators for the Public. Ashoka, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <https://www.ashoka.org/>.
5. "Obama’s Social Entrepreneurship Policy… What And When?" Campus Entrepreneurship. N.p., 23 Jan. 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2013. <http://campusentrepreneurship.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/obamas-social-entrepreneurship-policy-what-and-when/>.