A social entrepreneur is not an entrepreneur!

I read “Time to put the entrepreneurship record straight” by Hamid Bouchikhi and found it quite thought provoking. Whilst I agree with some of what Hamid says I disagree that we should “look for a label other than ‘social’ to help us sort the good from the ugly”. He says that “the ideal responsible entrepreneur does no harm and does not produce negative results” but for me this fails to take into account the fact that social entrepreneurship is about creating positive social impact, progress and change – very different to simply not having a negative impact.

Yes, a shift towards more responsible commercial business would be welcomed by all (as is the shift towards more sustainable social interventions) but it is important to distinguish the difference between social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs; their primary motivation. A commercial entrepreneur’s primary motivation is to make profit, so naturally their decision making is guided by the bottom line. Whereas a social entrepreneur’s primary motivation is to provide a solution to a complex social issue.

Dealing with complex social issues is costly. It can be difficult to balance the books when you’re trying to deliver the level and quality of care vulnerable people need. Hence why so many social enterprises supplement what they earn with grants and donations. It’s also important to remember that social entrepreneurs are usually looking at a bigger picture. They want to start conversations, influence policy, create opportunities, promote equality and change attitudes. Few just want to run a single organisation. Put simply: the difference between running a cafe dedicated to providing employment for a particular marginalised group and being a cafe that happens to employ an individual from that group is that the latter would only hire the individual if they were ‘good for business’.

The social entrepreneurs I have met are often borderline obsessive about what they do and it’s the passion and drive of these individuals that enables large scale social change. I think they deserve to be marked out from the rest with the title of ‘social entrepreneurs’.


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