By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor
Social entrepreneurship is steadily gaining popularity as, by creating and sustaining social value, involves pattern-breaking innovation that focuses on people rather than profit—features that are often favored by the Millennial generation. However, there is no consensus on the definition of social entrepreneurship—indeed, the lack of a common definition hinders research and raises questions about which social or profit-making activities fall within its spectrum. For example, social entrepreneurship is based on different models: for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid models. Hybrid models link profit to social mission, and underscore the triple bottom line, which consists of three Ps: profit, people and planet.
Perhaps, it is easier to define the aim of social entrepreneurship. “The aim is to benefit a specific group of people, permanently transforming their lives by altering a prevailing socioeconomic equilibrium that works to their disadvantage. Sometimes, as with environmental entrepreneurship, the benefit may be extended to a broader group once the project has provided proof of concept. But more often the benefit’s target is an economically disadvantaged or marginalized segment of society that doesn’t have the means to transform its social or economic prospects without help.”
So, how can we define social entrepreneurs? “The social entrepreneur is a mission-driven individual who uses a set of entrepreneurial behaviours to deliver a social value to the less privileged, all through an entrepreneurially oriented entity that is financially independent, self-sufficient, or sustainable.”
This year’s Forbes 30 Social Entrepreneurs Under 30 (2016) features 42 young entrepreneurs, including a few co-founder pairs and teams. They combine different skills—in technology, engineering, science and business—for social purposes, such as feeding the planet, provide help to find quality jobs, or improving health.
Here is an example: Gavin Armstrong’s Lucky Iron Fish protects people from developing iron deficiency, which affects nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide. Iron deficiency is a preventable condition that, if untreated, leads to anemia, weakness, impaired cognitive ability, compromised physical development in children, and increased risk of illness. Lucky Iron Fish makes pieces of iron in the shape of fish. When cooked in boiling water, the fish—which can provide an entire family with up to 90% of their daily iron intake for up to 5 years—releases iron.
Lucky Iron Fish defines itself as a business with a social purpose. In addition, Lucky Iron Fish is a certified B Corporation. B corporations (B Corps) are for-profit companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems—in other words, they use the power of business as a force for good. Businesses focused on social good have been around for decades. However, the concept took off in 2012, as new laws in several states allowed mission-based companies to reincorporate as benefit corporations, while protecting themselves from shareholders who might not prioritize values such as employee wellness or eco-friendliness.
B corps now consists of a growing community of more than 1,400 Certified B Corps from 42 countries and over 120 industries, are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. They work together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.
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