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Common Characteristics of Social Entrepreneurs

March 5, 2015
Small Business
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By Jeremy Office

Learn more about Jeremy on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

An old proverb says: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

A capitalist may look at that situation and think: Teach a man to fish, and you can sell him lots of fishing gear.

A social entrepreneur, on the other hand, doesn’t look at the man or the fish, but rather at the inherent problem: What prevented this man from learning to fish? Are there other men who also can’t fish?

A social entrepreneur is a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or affecting social change. This type of entrepreneur is on the rise.

Some examples of social entrepreneurs under the age of 30 include:

  • Chase Adams, the founder of Watsi, a crowdfunding site where donors can fund high-impact medical care for people in need.
  • Clara Brenner, co-founder of Tummi, which works with early stage startups that innovatively solve urban problems.
  • David Schwartz, a co-founder of Real Food Challenge, which trains college students to pressure administrators to buy “real food.” Real food is described as local, fair, and ecologically sound and humane. It’s free from additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and it’s produced without violating major labor laws.

Successful social entrepreneurs have common values. They’re typically more focused on social values than profits, and partner with local communities, governments, companies and charities. Social entrepreneurs are in it for the long haul; overall success comes when there is long-term, structural change to address their cause. Their positive contributions to society include changes in health care, transportation and education.

The nation’s top business schools have expanded their offerings to meet the rising demand for social entrepreneurship programs. Incoming students understand that their work should have a social impact — no matter which industry they are in.

So what does all this mean, and where is social entrepreneurship heading? Will business entrepreneurs focus on economic progress, while social entrepreneurs focus on social progress? Or will the different types of entrepreneurs slowly morph into one?

Capitalism and ethical standards can go hand in hand. It will be interesting to see how this generation and those to come embrace social entrepreneurship.