Social Entrepreneurship: What It Is and Why Everyone's Talking About it

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Entrepreneurs used to be those who had an idea, started a company, and made money. They wrote a business plan, circulated the document to a bank, and worked tirelessly to scale their company and drive profits for themselves and their investors. But in 2018, we’re a startup nation. Actually, we’re a startup world. Entrepreneurs have different motivations for starting a business just as consumers have different motivations to buy.

I’ve noticed a significant uptick in interest in companies that have a basic alignment in social responsibility, meaning the mission is not just to grow and make money, but to do good in the universe. Enter, social entrepreneurship.

Social Entrepreneurship Examples

1. TOMS

TOMS arguably put social entrepreneurship on the map. It started as a one-for-one model; Buy a pair of shoes, and TOMS would give a pair to a child in need. Today, buying a pair of TOMS shoes or sunglasses provides shoes, sight, water, safe birth, and bullying prevention services to people across the globe.

2. Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s aims “to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to our business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors alike.” They do this by using their power of purchasing to support positive change, keep their manufacturing footprint small and responsible, give back to local communities, and make delicious ice cream.

3. Warby Parker

To date, this eyewear company has given away over 4 million pairs of glasses through their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program. They’ve also disrupted the eyewear industry and spawned countless copycat organizations.

4. Good Eggs

Good Eggs is an online grocery and meal kit delivery service that sets itself apart with fresh, local produce and meal kits for a variety of occasions. Their mission: over 70% of their food, wine, and spirits are locally sourced, and every item must meet a strict list of sourcing standards.

5. Lush

This cosmetics company cites environmental awareness and ethical consumerism as its bedrocks. All Lush cosmetics are free of packaging, and the company gives millions to environmental causes each year.

6. Uncommon Goods

Independent makers are the backbone of this company. They offer a marketplace for creatives to sell their goods with the aim of having a positive impact on people and the planet. They work to minimize their environmental impact and work with artists to use sustainable or recycled materials when possible.

7. GoldieBlox

“GoldieBox is the award-winning children’s multimedia company disrupting the pink aisle in toy stores and challenging gender stereotypes with the world’s first girl engineer character.” They create toys, books, apps, videos, animation, and other merchandise to empower girls to build confident, empowered futures.

8. Pipeline Angels

In 2016, only 26% of U.S. angel investors were women and only 5% were minorities. Pipeline Angels wants to change that and is doing so by creating capital and investment opportunities for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs. They run a signature bootcamp aimed at educating female investors and also offer a pitch summit for entrepreneurs seeking funding.

9. United By Blue

Not your ordinary outdoor apparel store, for every product sold, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. At the time of publication, they had removed over 1 million pounds of trash.

10. Shea Radiance

Co-founder Funlayo Alabi and her husband started making soap to solve their family’s dry skin problems. What started as an experiment to heal their sons’ eczema prone skin morphed into a clean and effective product line for hair, skin, and body. Alabi sources all Shea Butter directly from women-run cooperatives in rural Nigeria and Ghana which ensures revenue ends up “in the hands of the women who have earned it.”

11. Werk

Werk believes the future of work is not unchangeable, it’s adaptive to each employee’s skills, motivations, and needs. By helping people find their Flextype, Werk believes they can make work flexible for everyone.

12. Oliberté

This shoe manufacturer is a sustainable brand supporting workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. They launched their own factory in 2012 and make every pair of Oliberté shoes from this factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2013, they also become the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory.

13. Lstn

Proceeds from the sales of LSTN speakers and headphones go towards giving hearing aids to people in need through their partner, Starkey Hearing Foundation.

14. FIGS

FIGS exists to create super-comfortable, ethically responsible scrubs. They create a high-quality product and donate hundreds of thousands of scrubs to healthcare providers in over 35 countries.

15. Love Your Melon

This apparel brand gives a hat to every child battling cancer in America. They also support nonprofit organizations fighting against pediatric cancer. 50% of all the profits that come from buying a Love Your Melon product go to their nonprofit partners and beanie donation events run year round.

Social Entrepreneurship Ideas

So, you want to do some good, but you’re not quite sure where to start? Here are a few guidelines to find the perfect social entrepreneurship idea for you:

  1. Define what you’re passionate about - Do you firmly believe every child in America should have a pillow? Do you volunteer at a food pantry on the weekends? Are you an activist for certain local charities? Define what you’re passionate about and proceed to step two …
  2. Determine the gaps - Once you know what you’re passionate about, it’s time to decide what the gaps are in existing products/services and determine how you can fill those gaps. If the food pantry you volunteer at can’t disseminate fresh, donated produce before it spoils, think about how you could provide a service that makes it faster and easier to get fresh produce to the underserved communities in your area.
  3. Identify your strengths and skills - Are you an excellent writer or a salesperson extraordinaire? List your strengths and skills, and define how they can serve your mission. This is also an excellent time to identify your weaknesses, so you know who to call upon for help.
  4. Decide on a business model - Being a social entrepreneur is not the same as starting a nonprofit. Consider how you will monetize your idea and choose a business model. Whether a cross-compensation model like TOMS and Warby Parker or a market connector like Uncommon Goods, it’s important to know how your business will be structured.

Why has Social Entrepreneurship Gained Popularity?

In the age of heightened competition, social responsibility is a differentiating factor that allows many companies to appeal to specific buyer demographics. The idea of “Conscious Capitalism” gained mainstream attention when Whole Foods founder John Mackey published a book by the same name.

Employment rates are climbing in the United States and beyond, and employees have a choice in who they work for. For many, they choose to work for companies with strong missions as well as earning potential.

When we were researching our book, Inbound Organization: How to Build and Strengthen Your Company's Future Using Inbound Principles, my co-author Todd Hockenberry and I call out several examples of how social responsibility is an important component of having a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

So, if you’re still interested in becoming a social entrepreneur -- you couldn’t pick a better time. Formulate your plan today and make the world a better place.

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