Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

Each social entrepreneur presents ideas that are user-friendly, understandable, ethical, and engage widespread support in order to maximize the number of local people that will stand up, seize their idea, and implement with it. In other words, every leading social entrepreneur is a mass recruiter of local changemakers—a role model proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.

Over the past two decades, the citizen sector has discovered what the business sector learned long ago: There is nothing as powerful as a new idea in the hands of a first-class entrepreneur.

Why "Social" Entrepreneur?

Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating solutions to change society for the better. While a business entrepreneur might create entirely new industries, a social entrepreneur comes up with new solutions to social problems and then implements them on a large scale.

Examples of Ashoka Fellows / Social Entrepreneurs:

  • Zackie Achmat (South Africa): Founder of the Treatment Action Campaign, he is spearheading a grassroots social initiative to provide affordable AIDS medicines to the public in South Africa in a way that not only staunches the epidemic's growth but also transforms the public health system and enables communities to counter the host of other social challenges they are facing.
  • Lillian Masebenza (South Africa): Founder of Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Networks, Lillian incorporates income generation and enterprise development into traditional village collective models, called stokvels, capitalizing on their inherent popularity among disadvantaged women and youth in South Africa.
  • Betty Makoni (Zimbabwe): Founder of Girl Child Network, Betty is building a new generation of strong, active women citizens. In Zimbabwean society, girls are discriminated against, often abused, and given limited opportunities for expression and development. Betty thus creates safe spaces for girls to grow and connect with each other. Betty uses advocacy campaigns, media projects, and works with community leaders to raise awareness and change attitudes at community and national levels.
  • Dale Lewis (Zambia): Founder of Community Markets ofr Conservation (COMACO), he introduced market-based conservation that recognizes the interconnectedness between a broad range of wildlife species and livelihoods, with humans playing a central role as protectors of the ecological system. As a result, poaching around Zambia’s Luangwa Valley has been reduced by about 50 percent.
  • Dorien Beurskens (Mozambique): Founder of Young Africa, Dorien developed an affordable method of vocational training, licensing the different departments to local entrepreneurs. The core of this model is capital investment rented out to a local entrepreneur, who consequently trains and employs youth while producing goods and services for local communities.

Historical Examples of Social Entrepreneurs:

  • Florence Nightingale (U.K.): Founder of modern nursing, she established the first school for nurses and fought to improve hospital conditions.
  • Susan B. Anthony (U.S.A.): Fought for Women's Rights in the United States, including the right to control property and helped spearhead adoption of the 19th amendment.
  • Vinoba Bhave (India): Founder and leader of the Land Gift Movement, he caused the redistribution of more than 7,000,000 acres of land to aid India's untouchables and landless.
  • Dr. Maria Montessori (Italy): Developed the Montessori approach to early childhood education. 
  • Jean Monnet (France): Responsible for the reconstruction of the French economy following World War II, including the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC and the European Common Market were direct precursors of the European Union.

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