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Are You a Social Entrepreneur?

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Characteristics of Social Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurial organizations are usually created by a founding social entrepreneur. Many people do not realize that they are entrepreneurs. They just know that they are obsessive about some social problem and determined to do something about it. How do we recognize such people? Boorstein suggests that social entrepreneurs display the following characteristics:

  • They are willing to self-correct. Entrepreneurs are not starry-eyed idealists as you might think, but pragmatists who get the job done by focusing on the goal, not a particular approach. This allows them to admit that something is not working and then switch to a method that holds more promise. Admitting defeat on one road allows the social entrepreneur to search for other routes.

  • They are willing to share credit. The social entrepreneurs described in Boorstein's book invariably credit others with the success of their missions. This provides a strong bond with those who help develop their organizations. Pay may not be great, but satisfaction and recognition rank well for the people who work with and for social entrepreneurs.

  • Social entrepreneurs are willing to break free of established structures. Most entrepreneurial organizations are started from scratch rather than within existing ones. This allows for the necessary innovations and the ability to see beyond the orthodoxy of a particular field.
  • They are willing to cross disciplinary boundaries. Boorstein says that social entrepreneurs serve as "social alchemists," gathering ideas, experience and resources from different fields resulting in configurations that are new and, many times, counterintuitive.

  • They are willing to work quietly. Most of the projects started by social entrepreneurs are not well known. Some of these leaders work quietly for decades to achieve their goals. They work in small groups and do not seek out publicity. Part of this is because they are committed to their missions, rather than the limelight.

  • They have a strong ethical motivation. Unlike other entrepreneurs who seek to create market success, social entrepreneurs are driven by their ethical visions. As Boorstein writes, "Does the entrepreneur dream of building the world's greatest running-shoe company or vaccinating all the world's children?"

Reading about social entrepreneurs and about Ashoka is a revelation. These people think so far out of the box that it is breathtaking to watch. You find yourself rooting for their success and wondering why you didn't know about them earlier. Thankfully, organizations such as Ashoka are on to these folks and are bringing them to our attention so that we can applaud, support, and even get involved with their activities as donors or volunteers.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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