Social entrepreneurship is a term that’s been part of the business landscape for a number of years. At its essence it means developing, funding or implementing solutions to social, cultural or environmental issues.
Today, it’s all around us. For example, when a shoe company donates a pair of shoes for every pair sold, or a corporation joins with other like-minded partners to launch an initiative that addresses an existing need.
While virtually all entrepreneurs start companies in order to generate revenue, many of the leaders of those companies actively look for ways to use their marketplace position and that revenue to support people, communities and even countries that can use their help.
“Having social impact built into your business model allows you to live your life on purpose,” says Melissa Levick, owner of Honeycomb, a social impact SaaS platform that facilitates connections between businesses and philanthropic efforts.
“It’s about connecting your brand’s why with how it can be used authentically to serve the world. It’s not a gimmick or a marketing tool. It’s a genuine mechanism to solve social problems while feeling connected to a higher purpose.”
Looking out for others has always been a personal mission for Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Brian Paes-Braga who currently operates as the principal and head of merchant banking at SAF Group.
In 2015 he founded Lithium X Energy, a lithium resource company that provided the essential element for batteries, then sold the company two years later.
Today, in addition to his work at SAF and involvement in other business ventures, he helps lead the Quiet Cove Foundation, a foundation he founded that supports the development of large-scale solutions to social issues.
He also sits on the board of directors for DeepGreen, a supplier of environmentally friendly battery grade metals sourced from polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor.
“It’s exciting to be involved with companies and organizations that are doing well and giving back simultaneously,” he says.
“If we’re going to be responsible leaders in our companies, we also have to be responsible leaders in our communities. This includes both our fellow human beings and the environment, and it’s our duty to give whatever we can to make the world a better place.”
For some entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurship is the business model. Rags2Riches, a for-profit enterprise in the Philippines, was established by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz.
It creates what she refers to as eco-ethical fashion and home accessories, products made from recycled scrap cloth, organic materials and indigenous fabrics by artisans who live in poor communities across the country.
“Rags2Riches, Inc. was created to provide these artisans with fair access to the market and the formal economy,” says Fernandez-Ruiz, “as well as with additional skills-based, financial, and health training so they can maximize their career potential and take steps towards long-term financial and personal well-being.”
She also notes that Rags2Riches has trained numerous artisans across the Metro Manila area. “When we started,” she says, “the term social enterprise was not yet that known or popular. But fashion was absolutely booming.
It took a while for us to bridge social enterprise and fashion and carve out a strong niche market. We are considered one of the pioneers of artisan-centric, eco-fashion in our country and in Asia.”
Everyone agrees that social entrepreneurship is an important part of running a company. Experts also advise that these types of projects be run like a company.
Gautam Sen Gupta, co-founder of the GRAS Academy and past president of the Dubai chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), writes that social entrepreneurs should apply business techniques to ensure that such initiatives are operated efficiently, and that they meet financial needs and expenses, including salaries. “But the overriding driving force,” he adds “has to be passion with a societal focus.”
“There are a lot of aspects that require thinking like a typical businessperson. As entrepreneurs understand and work with the problems and their vision for solving them, they will discover new avenues, new challenges and it is important to evolve the business to ensure that they stay with their vision to make it work and achieve the goals set out.”