Path of the Social Entrepreneur – Debunking Myths

Social Entrepreneur

Have you considered starting your career at a social enterprise? Yawn! Who wants to work at NGOs? You are wrong. Do you know your role models from Richard Branson to Muhammad Yunus are all social entrepreneurs and have built great companies (not not-for-profits) that are changing the world?

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson

Many established professionals had started from running a social enterprise. Working at a social enterprise might be ideal way to start your career… Want to know more?

Social entrepreneurship is the practice of tackling social issues through private initiatives. Social entrepreneurs are exactly what they sound like – entrepreneurs hustling to find solutions to some of the world’s pressing social issues (societal, cultural, environmental, etc.)  These extraordinary individuals comprise of the best of both worlds – driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and motivated by a social mission.

As the social sector (or impact sector as it is also known) has only recently started gaining traction in India. It is not surprising that students and young graduates have many misconceptions about it. Let’s dispel some of the major ones right away!

Social enterprise = non-profit organization !

The most common myth (breeding many more myths) is that social enterprises are non-profit ventures. It is far from the truth. In fact, most social enterprises are for profit. There does exist a sense of vagueness, but, social enterprise as an umbrella term refers to any enterprise driven to create social value irrespective of profits. These enterprises can be non-profit, for profit or even cooperatives.

Social entrepreneurs don’t run real businesses !

There is a perception that social entrepreneurs are just do-gooders or lack business acumen or can’t run “real” businesses. Know that most social entrepreneurs come from successful business backgrounds. Social entrepreneurs are as competent as other entrepreneurs if not better. Many run big businesses with thousands of employees. A passion to create social value doesn’t undermine the entrepreneur within them.

Social entrepreneurs work only in health and livelihood sectors in rural areas !

It is a perception that social enterprises exist only in the healthcare or livelihood sector. This is not true. Most social enterprises do cater to health and livelihood sectors, however, social enterprises operate in many sections of the economy. There are social enterprises in finance, agriculture, energy, education, environment, etc. – many times spanning across multiple sectors. All of these have the same common denominator – creating social impact.

Social entrepreneurship as a career isn’t glamorous !

Some might argue that the career is not for those seeking excitement. But, they couldn’t be more wrong. Social entrepreneurs face the same challenges as any other entrepreneur (product-market fit, raising capital, etc.). At the same time, they work with some of the most cutting edge technology – from next gen solar devices to health monitoring apps, solving some of the most complex problems and working with entire communities at once. In fact Ned Breslin, CEO, Water for People, went so far ahead as to compare them to punk rockstars[1] – standing up to societal problems and shouting until their voices are heard!

If you look up Social Entrepreneur in the dictionary, the definition would go like – “a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change”. Yes! They impart social change, but they deliver this impact while making profits – leading socially progressive and financially sound organizations.

So what can you expect if you decide to be one? For one, you have to be willing to take big risks. Being an entrepreneur is inherently risky, but with social entrepreneurs, the risks are much bigger, as they tackle intractable problems in ways never before tried. More importantly, it takes a tenacious and resilient attitude. Bill Drayton, one of the foremost thinkers in the world of social enterprises once remarked “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry”.

Image Courtesy - The Real Deal, NDTV
Image Courtesy – The Real Deal, NDTV

Social entrepreneurs lead a challenging, resourceful and exciting career. They may work with certain sections locally, but their actions have the potential to stimulate global improvements in their field. They are driven by a particular cause and represent it globally, becoming the voice of change.

In the end, it all boils down to your calling in life. Is the entrepreneur within you driven by social causes? You have to discover an issue that truly moves you – a solution you truly believe in. With your educational background, you may have numerous opportunities that are more financially secure. But some ambitions are beyond money. Over 250 million people in India live in acute poverty, without access to healthcare, water or electricity. Social entrepreneurs will be doing the bulk of work of uplifting their livelihood in the coming decades.

Excited about the impact space? Visit www.impactpreneurs.com to explore exciting enterprises and individuals in the sector.

[1] http://www.uniteforsight.org/conference/2012/social-entrepreneurship-careers

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