At first glance, it’s not easy to find entrepreneurs whose businesses revolve around a social or environmental issue. For most entrepreneurs, the priority seems to be just getting a business going, and worrying later about making it socially and environmentally sustainable.
There are many reasons for that. Most entrepreneurs consider it a luxury to focus on social or environmental issues. They want to find financial security first, to get on their feet and move beyond the daily survival worries. Dedicating oneself to another, bigger cause is a daunting responsibility, and most businesses focus on much more immediate goals of simply making a profit.
But social entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean running soup kitchens. There’s another way to look at it: Social entrepreneurship is nothing more than offering innovative solutions to significant problems within a society. When you look at it that way, social entrepreneurship really isn’t all that different from the kind of entrepreneurship that is driven solely by the desire over financial profit. It’s just a different way of channeling the psychological energy you put into your business. Instead of focusing on making money, you focus on serving the needs of your customers. Seen from that perspective, social entrepreneurship isn’t dreamy and utopian, it’s just good business.
Today the “Millennials,” otherwise known as members of “Gen Y”, are likely to produce the lion’s share of social entrepreneurs. Millennials have a reputation for wanting more than just a big paycheck; they want to find real meaning in their work. They want to know that what they do contributes to the development of society. You can see them embracing that ethic in their active participation in philanthropy, nongovernmental organizations, non-profits and socially motivated business, where they are contributing with some of the most innovative ideas and transforming these organizations. With this attitude, they will fit well into a global business community that increasingly asks us to become aware of our responsibilities as citizens.
Another group of people that is well-positioned for innovation in the social entrepreneurship arena are expats and their spouses. With their depth of life experience and their international perspectives, they possess essential know-how needed by the communities around them. When expats contribute through their participation in local NGOs, not only do they help their host country, but they also bring more meaning and purpose to their own work and lives. Especially for those international-types who plan to go around the world or change locations every few years, becoming involved in social entrepreneurship projects is a great way to build a worldwide network of like-minded people.
It’s not just idealistic young kids and globetrotters who are making a name for themselves as social entrepreneurs. İbrahim Betil is one example of an experienced social entrepreneur in Turkey, having held several upper management positions in well-known corporations, in 1994 he dedicated himself to a life developing the societies around him. He is the founder of Toplum Gönüllüleri Vakfı, or TOG, a well-known organization facilitating community volunteering. His hands-on dedication to his causes is an inspiration to us all.
If you are looking for ideas for your own venture, check out an organization called ASHOKA. It is a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, and its members are developing creative solutions for some of the world’s most urgent social problems. ASHOKA supports ideas and initiatives in many fields concerning human needs, from microfinance to water management to children’s health. I encourage you to visit their Web site, ashoka.org, to see what their current projects are, and how you might contribute. Whether you are already running your own business, or are just looking for ways to bring more social awareness into your life, once you learn how to spot the social entrepreneurs around you, you will find no shortage of inspiration.