Over the last fifteen years, the concept of social entrepreneurship has captured the imagination and interest of public, corporate and civic leaders worldwide. If social entrepreneurs have existed since people came together to form communities, the current focus on applying entrepreneurial thinking to achieve social transformation is new – driven in part as a result of the shortcomings of governments, markets and charitable organizations to come up with innovative, sustainable and scalable solutions to increasingly complex societal challenges.
An additional reason for the growing interest in the topic lies with the stories of social entrepreneurs and how they go about achieving their results despite often overwhelming odds. Their leadership trajectories are fascinating, a testimony to the power of human ingenuity to pursue noble goals. To understand how inspiring these people and their quest are, one need look no further than the efforts undertaken by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to prove that the poor are credit worthy by creating the Grameen Bank.
Above all entrepreneurs, they constantly bring out the capitalism’s inherent contradictions. Because they are somehow “unreasonable” and possess a pioneer spirit, they can foster often radical social and environmental transformation.
It is interesting to note that, in the 1930’s, the economist Schumpeter concentrated his work on the foundations of economic development. He highlighted the entrepreneur, whose “role is to reform or revolutionize the production model.” For him, entrepreneurs focus on emerging needs, contrary to large-company managers or civil servants, who are content to deal with what already exists.
The key to sustainable capitalism is to aim for reasonable, not maximum, profitability. The current system no longer works. It needs to be reconsidered from top to bottom, and the current financial crisis is forcing us to do just that.
Social entrepreneurs can help in finding the right way forward. They understand that the challenges of economic and social equality are too complex to be left in the hands of a single sector, private, public or associative.
They know that the problems we are facing now are the consequence of a divided world: the sphere that creates financial wealth is separate from the reality of the day-to-day life and human values we all share.
Social entrepreneurs are the revolutionaries. But they are pragmatic revolutionaries who recognize the power of markets, when founded on real values, to enable sustainable economic, social and environmental development – the element of profit ensures the others are accomplished.
But they cannot change the world alone. Their efforts must be directly linked to the private sector, governments and civic organizations. Their role is to light the fire of social transformation. That flame must be carried by those who understand the spirit of social enterprise and who believe in what it can achieve – with all parties pitching in.