A social entrepreneur is someone who has decided to turn his or her entrepreneurial bent onto the social realm, to undertake an initiative that will benefit the greater number of people, not just a few shareholders or stakeholders.
This kind of entrepreneurs typically meshes the rigor and risk-taking you see in all business owners, but they also shun the limelight and want others to shine.
Here are 10 characteristics that successful social entrepreneurs have exhibited in the last two decades or more.
- Healthy Impatience
A social entrepreneur shows a healthy impatience with the way things are, according to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, in a report by its Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship.
CASE notes that socially minded entrepreneurs want to change things right away, know it can be done, and are sometimes frustrated that bureaucracy and the lack of political will, among others, impede on social changes that could benefit the masses.
Socially oriented entrepreneurs interlock zeal and passion, especially at the initial stages of a short-term project or long-term initiative. They tend to believe wholeheartedly in their projects, and therefore it is not unusual for them to log 80-hour weeks.
This characteristic is also seen in business entrepreneurs, who initially work tirelessly on their initiatives.
- The desire to Change Others
At the core of every social entrepreneur is an unwavering willingness to change others, especially people with whom he or she works.
That desire to alter mindsets also extends to people in power, as seen, for example, in the case of Mohammed Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, which did so much to revolutionize the world of microfinance and enable lending to previously disenfranchised populations.
- Commitment to Improve Social Welfare
Social entrepreneurs are socially committed first and foremost – that is a no-brainer.
But what differentiates them from, say, a company engaging in CSR, is their ability to fully devote their time, energy and meager resources to make sure things actually change for the better.
A business can use corporate social responsibility (CSR) – which entails everything from charitable donations to community work – to improve social welfare, but critics also point out that some for-profit entities use CSR as a public-relations tool.
Innovation is present in the minds of successful social entrepreneurs. They embrace technology fully, finding new ways to make things, deliver products and services, heal people, improve their lives…you name it.
The idea is to use expertise and competence acquired in the business world to change mindsets and improve or save the lives of millions around the world.
- Practicality When Solving Problems
Social entrepreneurship has no profit motive, but that does not mean social entrepreneurs don’t pay attention to budgetary constraints.
In fact, they do – and most of them always seek effective and efficient ways to operate their organizations. They have to, otherwise, they will vanish as fast as they appear on their social and economic landscape.
The bottom line is that competent social entrepreneurs find smart ways to solve problems without breaking their bank – which, again, is not really the case because they don’t have that much money to start with, and therefore there is no real bank.
- Risk Taking
Risk taking is essential in social entrepreneurship – and in any kind of entrepreneurship, for that matter.
It takes a special mindset to wake up one day and say you want to change things in this world. The risk becomes even greater if you have no money, don’t have a posh social background, leave your day job, or embark on a project that could cost you your livelihood…or even your life.
- Philanthropic Bent
A social entrepreneur generally has a philanthropic bent, meaning he or she is not necessarily driven by money or fame.
Also, he or she tends to distribute whatever profits are made to the socially disadvantaged, or reinvest the excess cash in the organization.
The idea is to grow the entity by enlisting more people, so more people can be positively affected, more lives can be saved, and much more social value can be created in the long term.
- Lack of Megalomania
This characteristic is similar to the previous one.
Social entrepreneurs don’t always a megalomaniac personality, imbued with themselves or their work. They care deeply about their cause, otherwise, they would not risk everything to pursue it in the first place.
But there is no “me, me, always me” drive here, a desire to shine always and everywhere. The charitable cause being the most important thing, these entrepreneurs don’t have a problem letting others shine, especially their team members or others involved in local projects.
- Faith in Team Work
Teamwork is essential for social entrepreneurs. In a sector in which there often is not enough money, resources or expertise, the only resources available are people – and time, if you can call it a resource.
Therefore, social entrepreneurship revolves around the concept of crowdsourcing, tapping into a team of faithful workers along with volunteers scattered around the world to identify worthy projects, fund them and undertake them.
To Wrap It Up
Patience, passion and perseverance are essential traits in a successful social entrepreneur.
But you also see unselfishness, an ability to take measured and sometimes reckless risks, and a deep belief in humans.