"One of the newest figures to emerge on the world stage in recent years is the social entrepreneur. This is usually someone who burns with desire to make a positive social impact on the world, but believes that the best way of doing it is, as the saying goes, not by giving poor people a fish and feeding them for a day, but by teaching them to fish, in hopes of feeding them for a lifetime. 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."
― Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
Friedman wrote about the emergence of social entrepreneurs in 2005 and never has the concept sounded more appealing. With a planet threatened by climate change, overpopulation, limited resources and many more man-made calamities, the need to care for our world and each other is becoming more apparent daily. The days where the bottom line was solely about profit are seeming more and more callous and dangerous. Today's bottom line is increasingly more focused on all 3 Ps; not only profits, but people and planet too. This trend can best be described as social entrepreneurship; an approach to business that combines for-profit initiatives and not-for-profit ideas. Business meant not only to succeed but to change the world for this better.
A dynamic rewarding movement
"In terms of new business formation in the UK, social enterprise is where the action is."
State of Social Enterprise Survey 2015
In its report the "State of Social Enterprise Survey 2015" Social Enterprise UK found that the movement, although relatively recent, is quickly rising with 49% of all social enterprises being five years old or less, 35% are three years old or less, and social businesses comprising more than three times the proportion of SME start-ups. Social enterprises are also innovation pioneers with 59% introducing a new product or service in the last 12 months alone, as opposed to SMEs where only 38% have seen new developments. And the results are clearly paying off; 40% more social enterprises were growing compared to mainstream SMEs, while 50% of social enterprises reported a profit and 26% broke even.
With social enterprises, success means more social good. The vast majority of these profits seen by social organisations were put back into furthering social or environmental goals. Social enterprises also had more inclusive and diverse leadership with 40% of social enterprises led by women; 31% reporting Black Asian Minority Ethnic directors and 40% having a director with a disability. Meanwhile, 41% of social enterprises created jobs in the past 12 months, compared to 22% of SMEs, and 59% of social enterprises employ at least one person who is disadvantaged in the labour market. The report is the "largest, most rigorous and most representative survey of social enterprises in the UK. Its results are taken from 1,159 telephone and online interviews with senior figures in social enterprises."
Similar results were found across the globe in North America. According to a June 2014 RBC white paper on Social Entrepreneurship in Canada, "social entrepreneurs tend to pursue social goals because they have a deep rooted personal belief in a particular cause [that] overlaps with an identified business opportunity." The accompanying survey showed that "social entrepreneurs might leverage their unique social characteristics for market advantage, they are pursuing social goals on their own merit rather than as a means to an end." Nearly 2 out of 3 social entrepreneurs revealed that they were pursuing social goals either to contribute to their societies or because of a personal belief in a cause, rather than for strictly commercial motives. The resulting analysis proved positive, indicating that "social entrepreneurs can combine financial success with the pursuit of non-financial goals" with 15% vs. 4% of non-social businesses being qualified as "able to achieve high revenue growth and high profitability at the same time" and 30% of social businesses falling into high growth quadrants (as opposed to 26% of other businesses).
An innovative force for good
More recently, actress and philanthropist Eva Longoria was announced as one of four judges in Chivas Regal's "The Venture" an initiative that will divide a $1 million fund among social entrepreneurs whose startups are "using business to create positive change. Speaking about The Venture Longoria said: "There are so many companies that don't understand social responsibility and giving back" She added: "Using business as a force for good is not only a passion of mine but, really, it's the only way that we're going to change the world."
Longoria's words are certain to strike a chord with many of us. Indeed, this emergence of social entrepreneurship is driven by more than the world's current state. If we all look inside ourselves we are all starting to realise that just making money does not fulfill us. Today's dreamers and future leaders are looking to impact positive change, achieve goals that benefit our neighbours and our planet. And there is much to be excited about! People who come from this perspective approach with a fresh and resourceful innovative thinking that can bring about effective meaningful change.
In SMEs this manifests itself as forward thinking and innovation combined with a style of leadership defined by self-awareness and empathy. As The Venture's Finalist Jaco Gerrits of South Africa's CrashDetch said; "I've always loved the idea that entrepreneurship and business can be used as a force for good. As an entrepreneur I'm continuously on the lookout for how to solve problems in new and unique ways. There are few things as rewarding as the ability to positively contribute to the lives of others, whilst doing what you love."
The time has come
"The question is not anymore if the business should or shouldn't take into consideration its social responsibilities but rather how to best approach them." (TIME, 2012)
But are we there yet? Heath Shackleford of Good.Must.Grow., "a socially responsible marketing consultancy that helps social companies and nonprofit causes succeed" wrote a well-thought out piece on fastcoexist on what is truly needed for social entrepreneurship to move forward in 2015 and beyond. He summed up the trend's needs in three points: improve funding, expand understanding and enhance collaboration, and urged readers to get more involved. "We have to more impressively show collective impact. We have to get better at advancing the story. We have to get smarter by sharing best practices and learning from one another. Our ability to lock arms, keep the big picture in mind and move the space forward is paramount to driving more funding, greater understanding and ultimately, long-term sustainability for triple bottom lines in business," he wrote.
We couldn't agree more. The time has come for a ubiquitous revolution in how we do business and we are more ready now than ever. Social entrepreneurship is not an elusive concept reserved to an elite few who have the right resources. Instead, it is a new way of doing business that uses people's passion for good for creating forward thinking ideas that change the world for the better. It is a movement available to anyone who cares and wants to see a better future and from that perspective it is the future. Social entrepreneurship is the way forward for all, the way forward for you. Will you join us? Wearesocialgrowth.org
*SocialGrowth won first prize in the UoM/AMBS Business Startup Competition Venture Further 2016 at the Manchester Center of Enterprise.