Sunday, 18 January 2015

Who Are Social Entrepreneurs? How Will They Change the World?

English: schwab foundation for social entrepre...
Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship (Wikipedia)
Lynn Serafinn shares two definitions for the term ‘social entrepreneur’ and explains how they are already shifting the paradigm of business and marketing.

The term ‘social entrepreneur’ is a fairly recent addition to the language of business. It’s so new that many people don’t really know what it means. 

One frequent misinterpretation of the term is that it has something to do with using social networking for business and marketing. While social media does often play a big part in new-paradigm business, this is most definitely NOT what ‘social entrepreneur’ means.

As I see it, there are two different ways to define the term. One is the ‘official’ or legal definition, and the other is a broader, more sociological one. 

In this article, I’d like to give a brief overview of both and offer some insight into how this new breed of entrepreneur can bring positive change to the world. 

The Legal Definition of ‘Social Entrepreneur’ 

Technically, a social entrepreneur is someone who runs or supports a legal business entity known as a social enterprise. While it is becoming an increasingly popular idea here in the UK and Europe, the social enterprise as a business model is still a new concept for many. 

What makes it even more nebulous for people is that there are many different types of social enterprise, and even amongst these, there can be many different possible structures. 

For example, the 7 Graces Project is a ‘community interest company’, also known as a CIC. However (in the UK anyway), the label ‘CIC’ does not define a business’s economic structure. It could equally refer to a co-operative or a limited company; if a limited company, it could be limited by shares or limited by guarantee. It could even be a sole proprietorship. 

On top of this, the terminology and legal structures for social enterprise will vary from country to country. Such ambiguities can make it all very confusing for the aspiring social entrepreneur, as well as for the public.

Like a charity, a social enterprise can apply for grants and funding; unlike a charity, it cannot survive on them, and it has to be able to sustain itself through (as the name suggests) enterprise. 

 While technically a non-profit organisation, a social enterprise can make a profit. But rather than benefiting shareholders, the bulk of this profit must be reinvested back into the company, thus enabling it to better serve the community.

Beyond these vagaries, what can be said with confidence is that a social enterprise is a new-paradigm business model that amalgamates enterprise with a social focus. The company’s constitution must clearly state how its activities will serve specific needs of a particular community. 

The community it serves does not have to be geographically defined; it could be a worldwide or virtual community defined by specific needs. For example, the 7 Graces Project CIC serves a global community of business owners seeking to develop their ethical business and marketing practices. 

The Expansive Definition of ‘Social Entrepreneur’ 

I believe there are many more social entrepreneurs on the planet than there are those who own or operate ‘official’ social enterprises. Many independent business owners approach their enterprises in what I would call a new-paradigm way. 

Their mission is to use their businesses as vehicles to serve the public as well as make a living. They have clearly defined missions and sets of values by which they operate. They aim to address the specific needs of particular communities. They are passionate, value-driven business people who are dedicated to increasing happiness and well-being in the world and are able to see a ‘meta-view’ of the world and their places within it.

Social entrepreneurs see society as a system and believe they have a role to play within that system. They have a keen awareness of their social impact , and they take full social responsibility for their actions. They look at how everything works together to create a greater whole. They are not only interested in helping others at an individual level, but in serving the ‘all’. 

They tend to be interested not only in living purpose-filled lives, but also in creating a purposefully designed world - one in which all human beings and living creatures live in balance and harmony with each other and the natural world.

It is this meta-view that makes the social entrepreneur different from the traditional business owner (large or small), charity or member of the general public. And when you combine the meta-consciousness of social entrepreneurs into a larger community, they become a formidable energetic force and a significant catalyst for positive social, economic and environmental change.

Because these kinds of people possess such qualities, regardless of whether or not they operate legal entities qualifying as social enterprises, I believe they can rightfully refer to themselves as social entrepreneurs. 

Social Entrepreneurs as Paradigm Shifters 

Social entrepreneurs are, by nature, paradigm shifters. Sensitive, creative, ethical and socially conscious people, they find ‘old-school’ strategies of business and marketing distasteful and incongruous to their personal style. Naturally, they will use their skills to invent effective and creative ways of marketing and doing business.

Our clients and trainees at the 7 Graces Project are all - in one form or another - social entrepreneurs. They are all paradigm shifters. We guide them to reinvent their approach to marketing so they focus on giving value rather than selling. Through this simple shift alone, we are already changing the paradigm of marketing.

But true change-makers know that our influence always extends beyond the seeming parameters of our individual businesses. How we conduct ourselves in the world (especially the online world) has an impact and influence even upon those we will never meet. 

Think of what happens when a single droplet of water falls into a still pond. The impact of that droplet will start a succession of waves radiating out from a central point. These waves will have an impact upon everything they touch, even though the original catalyst - the droplet - never makes contact with those things. If the waves come in contact with other waves of similar frequency, they will build and create an even bigger impact. 

In Nature, this motion can cause everything from devastating tsunamis to the ultimate surfer’s wave. In society, this motion can cause everything from political revolutions and war to powerful and creative cultural movements.

This is how social change happens. It comes from ‘droplets’ of creative expression from seemingly isolated change-makers who share the same frequency - the same values, vision and desire for the world.

Thus, I am calling upon ALL socially-sensitive business owners to come together and combine the common frequency of their desires for a more ethical world so that together we can create a more harmonious world. 

Closing Words 

The previous article is an abridged adaptation from the introduction of my upcoming book The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging, which will be coming out later in 2014. 

If you would like to receive an alert when this book is available, just go to http://the7gracesofmarketing/blogging-book. When you register for the reminder, you’ll also be able to download a free 5-page blogging template, which we use with our own clients and trainees here at the 7 Graces Project.

Are YOU a social entrepreneur? My guess is - if you’ve made it to the end of this article - you are. What does it mean to you to step into this role? How will you serve the world? What do YOU believe social entrepreneurship en masse brings society, the economy and the planet?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below … and let the dialogue continue. 

Lynn Serafinn, 13 June 2014.

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