The words social and business haven’t traditionally gone together in the same sentence.
But, having worked in the social entrepreneurship space for the past two years, I’ve found that the business world can offer a number of solutions for the issues we face as a society.
If you’re currently considering your career options, social entrepreneurship offers a chance to do work in an area that’s challenging and business-focused while also making a positive difference in the world.
What is social entrepreneurship?
In a nutshell, social entrepreneurship is about applying best practices from the business world in order to solve social issues. A social business is essentially an organisation that delivers profits while also having a positive impact on the community where it operates.
To really understand social entrepreneurship it’s helpful to explore some of these ideas in a little more depth:
Business best practices
A social enterprise draws on ideas and techniques from the business world.
When starting a social business, founders face the same list of questions as when starting any conventional business: Who are my customers? What need am I solving? How do I best market to my target audience? What profit margin should I be aiming for?
The key difference for social entrepreneurs is that they are measuring whether they are having the impact they set out to achieve.
Just as a conventional business looks to fill a commercial need, a social enterprise comes up with a solution for a social need.
Social issues can include environmental conservation, poverty, access to water and sanitation, worker exploitation, though the possibilities are limitless.
Impact is one of the most important factors in measuring the success of a social enterprise. This is one of the major differences to normal business where success is generally measured in profits.
Who are the big players in social entrepreneurship?
The social business space is expanding rapidly, with the number of actors increasing exponentially. These are the names you are likely to encounter as you delve deeper into the field:
The thought leader: Muhammad Yunus
The father of micro-finance, the subject of far too many economic development studies, and a torch bearer at this year’s Rio Olympics, Muhammad Yunus’ founding of Grameen Bank in 1983 opened the doors to banking on a small scale, and providing poor people with loans.
Once people are able to borrow money from the bank, they invest in micro businesses and education, leading to an increase in their future living standards.
The institution: Ashoka
Ashoka is an international organisation with a mission “to shape a global, entrepreneurial, competitive citizen sector: one that allows social entrepreneurs to thrive and enables the world's citizens to think and act as changemakers.”
The social enterprise: TOMS shoes
After witnessing the hardship of children in Argentina who grew up without shoes, Blake Mycoskie decided to build an independent and sustainable organisation that would tackle the issue. And, like that, TOMS shoes was born. Their concept of “one for one” is realised by helping one person in need for every product purchased.
They have since expanded their range to include glasses (proceeds from which go towards restoring eyesight) and bags (which support helping mothers give birth safely). This is a classic example of how a social entrepreneur identifies a social problem and then looks for a viable business model to address it.
What can Social Business offer you?
There are several ways you can get involved with social business – it could mean working with an NGO, volunteering for a cause you are passionate about, or even starting your own social enterprise.
A chance to learn
Volunteering is a great way to bulk up your CV while doing something impactful. Working with a social enterprise or NGO provides you with exposure to solving social issues, while developing useful skills for your future career.
I have come across many people working in safe and secure jobs, climbing the career ladder, earning enough money to sustain the lifestyle they always hoped for. However, they all felt that something was missing – for all their success they were looking for greater meaning in their work.
Working in social business can allow you to follow your chosen career path – be that law, engineering or accounting – while also helping those less fortunate than you.
Being your own boss
If you’re someone with an optimistic attitude, unstoppable drive, and innovative ideas, you might want to think about starting your own business. Why not make it a social one? The rewards for creating a useful product or service are far greater, not least the gratitude you’ll receive from those whose lives you’re changing.
Social business is a relatively new field, which means it’s packed full of untapped opportunity. There is a vast range of industries that could benefit from social business – health, construction, fashion, food, transport, to name but a few.
Another bonus is travel – whether in the developed or developing world, wherever you look there are social issues worth getting involved in.
Social business feels like one of the most promising solutions yet in tackling the major global issues of our generation. The financial independence and sustainability trumps charity work, while time and time again, the social enterprise model based on market principles far exceeds the success rate of government initiatives.
As a young person deciding on the next step of their life journey, now’s the perfect time to enter this exciting field as it’s still growing and evolving. There’s plenty to gain for everyone and very little to lose.