According to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s (GEM) Social Entrepreneurship Report released at the end of May 2016, social entrepreneurship is on the rise in both developed and developing nations, with many entrepreneurs proving that business can be a path to social good as well as profit. Often considered as a difficult term to define, Professor Siri Terjesen (AU Innovation Center Research Director) explains that social entrepreneurship is “any initiative that has a social, environmental, or community objective” and as such can encompass philanthropists, social activists, and environmentalists as well as community-based enterprises, socially responsible enterprises and social services industry professionals.
The report, which is the largest comparative study of social entrepreneurship in the world, shows that social entrepreneurship has the potential to advance education and healthcare across the globe by using business and private sector methods to find solutions to social, cultural or environmental problems. Hilde Schwab, co-founder and chairwoman of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship believes reliance on governments to provide social infrastructure and safety nets is unrealistic. Her foundation aims to promote social entrepreneurship as a solution to the many challenges facing the world and says “we must mobilise individuals who in entrepreneurial and innovative ways tackle the big problems we are faced with now and in the future.”
Francesco Piazzesi Tommasi, recent winner of the World Entrepreneurship Forum‘s social entrepreneur award, agrees with Schwab, stating in the Guardian that although the Mexican government has tried to address Mexico’s housing shortage through social housing projects, government programmes have only been able to place 4 million families in adequate housing. “The rest is up to us” he says. His 20 years in the construction business has led to ‘¡Échale! a tu casa’, a community-based project to build safe, adequate and affordable housing for Mexican families as well as providing financial education, technical training, and social franchising.
Another celebrated example of the social entrepreneur is multi-award winning TOMS Shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie, whose distinctive buy-one-give-one model has been copied by around 40 companies in the decade since he founded his business. After selling half of the company to Bain Capital in 2014, Mycoskie used $100 million of his payout to set up TOMS Social Entrepreneurship Fund, an investment fund that backs small companies with a core social mission. So far, the fund has made over a dozen investments in a widely diverse set of companies including Artlifting, Change.org, and Thrive Market, all grassroots profit-making enterprises which have a wider social benefit.
Entrepreneurs are in the unique position to identify an issue- be it a global problem or local matter- and respond to it with a dynamic and innovative solution that contributes to society, while also building a financially stable business. With social entrepreneurship on the rise globally, social entrepreneurs will surely have a vital and central role to play in changing the world for the better, one business at a time.