The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship

R Kirk Huntsman on the rise of social entrepreneurship

One of the appeals of entrepreneurship might be to become your own boss. But going into business for yourself doesn’t mean that you’ll be the only person who benefits from your enterprise.

Helping others is often a key part of being an entrepreneur. In fact, many entrepreneurs are turning to social entrepreneurship or using a business platform to give back to others.

According to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), exponentially more people are interested in—and pursuing—social entrepreneurship.

If you’re unsure about what the term social entrepreneur means, look no further than Toms, the company that’s at the forefront of the “one for one” business model that helps a person in need with every product purchased. Toms began with a simple goodwill idea that turned into a global movement and a profitable business. The company fulfills this promise with various divisions, including Toms Shoes (that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need) and Toms Eyewear (purchases in this department help restore sight and supports sustainable community-based eye care programs). Since 2006, Toms Shoes has provided over 60 million pairs of shoes to children and Toms Eyewear has restored sight to more than 400,000 individuals.

But there are smaller ways to incorporate social entrepreneurship into a business model, says a recent Forbes article about the GEM study. For many people, social entrepreneurship is about what Siri Terjesen calls “people starting any initiative that has a social, environmental or community objective. Terjesen is one of the GEM study’s co-authors and a professor at American University.

What could those social, environmental or community objectives be? Anything from starting a furniture company that solely uses recycled materials or manufacturing affordable lamps and selling them to communities where there’s not reliable electricity

That said, true social entrepreneurship in a business-model sense is not for everyone—and should not be for everyone.

In a 2012 Harvard Business Review post, “Not Everyone Should Be a Social Entrepreneur,” Lara Galinsky says:

“Most members of this generation will not be social entrepreneurs, and they shouldn’t be. But if we can channel their altruism and give them the tools, methodologies, and frameworks from the most successful social entrepreneurs, they will be changemakers, champions, and supporters of the work. They will make meaningful contributions to the world not by founding organizations but by bringing their best selves — their heart and head — to their work.”

Galinsky knows of what she speaks. As the vice president of Echoing Green, a nonprofit that offers seed funding to social entrepreneurs launching bold organizations to solve big problems, she is directly charged with leading the next generation of leaders.

If you’re thinking about creating a new social enterprise—or incorporating a social enterprise into your existing business model—do your research. For starters,  Naomi Enevoldson’s website  is a great place to begin with helpful articles that help you answer questions, like “Is Social Entrepreneurship For You?” and “What Is a Social Entrepreneur?

Whenever, and however, you decide to fulfill your desire to do good and give back, never underestimate the power of one to help many.