How 'Social' Social Entrepreneurship Should Be?

Defining the boundaries of social entrepreneurship.

learn more about Ritu Kochar

By Ritu Kochar


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Social entrepreneurship has been a much discussed topic recently. Despite the vagueness of the term, it is an appealing construct because of the promise it holds – of being an entrepreneur and helping the society along the way. But what becomes a great difficulty on this way is when one aspect is given more importance than the other; or completely forgotten.

The term "Social Entrepreneur' comprises of two words. Social focuses on the upliftment of society through bringing a radical change; and entrepreneur is to act on an opportunity or idea and bring something new in the society. Entrepreneurs spur on by money and social entrepreneurs are driven by altruism. Together, social entrepreneurship signals the imperative to drive social change, and it is that potential payoff, with its lasting, transformational benefit to society, that sets the field and its practitioners apart.

Where an entrepreneur will anticipate to produce product that will serve the market's need while making a financial profit, social entrepreneurs neither anticipates nor organizes to create substantial financial profit for his or her investors or even themselves. Instead they focus on a large scale transformational benefit of the society. Unlike entrepreneurs, their focus is not a market that can pay for their product; rather it is the neglected and underprivileged sections of society who find it hard to make their voice heard.

Having said that, it is imperative to assign some boundaries to social entrepreneurship. A balance between both is important as to provide one term inclination will not do justice to the idea it holds.

A panel discussion held at IIT Delhi on March 12 titled "Social Entrepreneurship: Social Impact, Innovation, Self Sufficiency' discussed the same issue. The panel focused on motivating and introducing an intellectual and aspiring audience of entrepreneurs to the scope and field of social entrepreneurship. Panelist Ritu Marya, Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur India, talked about the business part of social entrepreneurship. She said that a business is business and it is done for the sake of profit. One tends to forget this when thinking about social entrepreneurship. Social becomes the focus while business is forgotten. However, that should not be the case.

She said, "When thinking about a social enterprise, social impact is important but social outcome is also equally important." If you are an entrepreneur you must work on your skills and add something new to it. It is meant to help you grow, as a person and financially. A social entrepreneur will grow as a person and his/her work is rightly appreciated. But growing entrepreneurial skills are important too because if that part is not focussed on the cash flow will stop and you will end up being neither of those.

Social entrepreneurship is often confused with social activism. The difference between the two types of ventures – one social entrepreneurship and the other social service – isn't in the initial entrepreneurial contexts or in many of the personal characteristics of the founders, but rather in the outcomes. A social entrepreneur will take direct action the social activist attempts to create change through indirect action, by influencing others – governments, NGOs, consumers, workers, etc. – to take action. Social activists may or may not create ventures or organizations to advance the changes they seek. Successful activism can yield substantial improvements to existing systems, but the strategic nature of the action is distinct in its emphasis on influence rather than on direct action. Social entrepreneur must learn to balance which will lead to better understanding and more informed decision making among those committed to advancing positive social change.

Ritu Kochar

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

Ritu used to work as a Feature writer for Entrepreneur India.

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