Top 10 Reasons Why Social Entrepreneurs Matter
Dr. Emad Rahim
What is social entrepreneurship and why is it important?
In a global business world replete with economically oriented announcements, social entrepreneurs bring another perspective to social trends, highlighting key factors that promote social welfare or launching initiatives that improve living conditions in specific areas. In clear, social entrepreneurs improve people’s lives by spearheading essential projects that initially don’t have a profit motive – even if, later, these initiatives can bear economic fruit.
Social entrepreneurs play a key role in today’s society, and here’s why.
- They Draw Attention to a Pressing Problem
Social initiators – another word for social entrepreneurs – improve the lives of citizens by highlighting pressing problems that might plague a neighborhood, country or group of people. Take, for example, the case of Rafael Alvarez, founder of Genesys Works, the Houston-based organization that teaches low-income high school juniors basic IT skills they can later use to land jobs post-graduation.
- They Create Economic Value
By creating jobs, producing income and nurturing an entire network of business partners – suppliers, shipping companies, lenders, utilities companies – social entrepreneurs contribute to the economic renewal of the region or country where they live and operate. Add to that the multiplier effect, in which employees of socially oriented organizations also have the opportunity to spend their income and grow the local economy.
- They Act as Catalysts for Social Change
Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Bengladesh-based Grameen Bank, epitomizes the ability of social entrepreneurs to spearhead positive changes, not only locally, but also globally. The Grameen Bank has received plaudits for promoting microfinance and microcredit, lifting millions of underprivileged customers out of poverty by funding local projects at favorable conditions.
- They Generate Social Value
“Social value” is the general improvement you see in a society – typically across the board. We’ve already mentioned the direct economic impact social entrepreneurship has on people, but other advantageous influences include sustainable environmental practices, high literacy for the underprivileged, a free flow of information among citizens, reduced health hazards, and increased innovation from educated and healthy citizens.
- They Inspire Others
Social initiators inspire others to do good, and sometimes, great things – simple as that. Take Bill Gates, for example, who after several decades in the business world decided to embark upon a global campaign for better literacy, access to basic healthcare, and increased innovation in the key sectors of health, environment, education and democracy. Besides the most prominent cases, there are lesser-known but also effective social entrepreneurs who bring about change every day in the communities where they live and work. Examples range from New York-based leadership entrepreneur Jean Desravines to William Foote and Sara Horowitz, respectively founders of Root Capital (a lender to farmers in poor countries) and Freelancers Union, which provides reasonably priced health insurance to the self-employed.
- They Can Influence Government Policy
All around the world, movements inspired or spearheaded by social initiators have gathered strong popular support, which in turn has helped the political willpower needed to make fundamental changes. Whether it is in public health, environmental awareness, occupational safety or education, socially oriented initiatives have transformed the way we live, work and vote on the fundamental issues of the day. The example of Benjamin Rattray – the founder and CEO of the online petition website Change.org – is enriching in the sense that it shows how a simple platform can serve as a powerful lever for social change and influence at the federal, state and local levels.
- They Create Unique Opportunities
Social entrepreneurs, by their very actions and initiatives, can provide unique opportunities for millions of individuals around the world. For example, Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun created D.light Design to provide portable solar lamps to the world’s 1.5 billion people who don’t have access to electricity. In lieu of dangerous and dirty kerosene lamps, D.light provides users with solar lamps that are clean and can provide up to 12 hours of light, thereby lifting millions out of poverty by giving them the ability to study, watch TV, access the Internet, and launch or run businesses.
- They Reshape Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has gained momentum in the business world recently, but some social entrepreneurs want to make sure companies don’t use CSR simply as a public-relations ploy. The concern for real and sustainable CSR has prompted Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Koulahan and Andrew Kassoy to launch B Lab. The organization certifies businesses complying with a variety of social and environmental criteria, emphasizing things like financial transparency, employee ownership and Fair Trade certification.
- They Can Change People’s Behaviors
In their quest for a better world, social initiators often come up with simple and easy-to-implement solutions that change or improve people’s behaviors. Daniel Yates, for example, has created Opower to help people reduce their energy consumption. The organization’s system allows customers to easily compare their electricity and gas consumption with that of their neighbors’, then provides energy saving advice on everything from LED lighting to equipment monitoring.
- They Save Lives
Perhaps the most noteworthy impact of social entrepreneurs is their ability to save lives…literally. Not the lives of seniors, young adults, teenagers – you name it – but new lives in difficult and impoverished environments. Jane Chen’s Embrace Global initiative has received accolades for creating the Thermpod, a device that keeps low-birth-weight babies warm even when there is a power outage in hospitals and clinics. Looking like a miniature sleeping bag, the Thermpod provides a lifesaving four to six hours of heat on a single 30-minute charge.
Social entrepreneurs matter for a host of reasons, from the mundane to the significant. They save lives, transform local economies and influence government policy. They usually venture into industries where traditional capitalism doesn’t want to go, reshaping the way we live, think, consume and interact at the national and global levels.
Dr Emad Rahim is Endowed Chair of the Project Management Center of Excellence, Associate Professor for Project Management at Bellevue University and Jack Welch Management Institute Fellow. You can find him on Twitter @DrEmadRahim.