Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Social Entrepreneurs and SoCap ’09

Last year, after Pop!Tech where I was labeled a Social Entrepreneur Fellow, I wrote a post for them asking, “if every African entrepreneur is a social entrepreneur?” This questions stems from my lack of clarity on what defines a “social entrepreneur” in the first place.

SoCap 09I just pulled into San Francisco for the second annual Social Capital Markets conference (SoCap). Kevin Jones, the convener of the conference calls this, “The market at the intersection of money and meeting.” So here, Social Capital is supposedly about putting money behind social entrepreneurs.

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

Rob Salkowitz says, “Every entrepreneur who creates employment & opportunity where it’s needed is a social entrepreneur.” That’s broad, but so is the terminology we’re starting with.

Wikipedia defines it as, “A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.”

What’s your definition?


  1. Someone who runs a business whose primary objective prioritises the growth of social capital and the return of social contribution above financial capital and shareholder return.

  2. I was being Twitter-glib with my definitions, given 140 characters. Here’s a paragraph from my manuscript where I address this point, talking about some of the ways that “Young World” entrepreneurs are different in their approach:

    Blends social and commercial objectives: In low-income countries, the very act of creating a business that employs others serves an important social purpose. What we see with this current wave, however, is that because Young World entrepreneurs have such personal experience with and proximity to the difficult conditions that prevail in their environments, their business ventures tend to put discretionary effort behind social goals such as workforce development, community-building, local problem-solving and civic society initiatives, even when they are primarily market-oriented. In fact, Young World entrepreneurs show a particular genius for finding market opportunities in developing solutions to social problems, incorporating the social aspect seamlessly into the DNA of their organizations.

  3. Carey’s definition is an interesting one, as it’s similar to the ethos (pardon the pun) behind the Free Software Foundation and the Open-Source Software movement, but applied to the humanist sphere. Perhaps this is the counter-culture to the “profit as bottom-line” capitalism that we all grew up under but have seen so little benefit from…? What’s the age demographic in these circles, I wonder…

  4. Social enterprise: business (for or non) that measures impact with social metrics first. Financial aspects need to be there too, but not first.

  5. The Rob Salkowitz and the Wikipedia definition just sound like what I would call an “innovator”, but I guess that’s too staid in this day and age. Honestly, prior to your mentioning it, I thought that being a “Social Entrepreneur” meant that you were able to socialize about your entrepreneurial endeavors; ie sell yourself to a broader audience. I mean, Salkowitz’s is insanely general to the point of my not knowing who does and who doesn’t fall under this term and why I was asking the same question as the PopTech post you’ve linked to, not just about Africa, but the world over.

  6. Hi Erik: really looking forward to your panel on innovation in Africa tomorrow at SOCAP09! I like Wayan’s definition of social entrepreneurship: “biz that measures impact w/social metrics first”. I enjoyed watching the video interview you did with Shara today! Wonderful, thank u! 🙂

  7. I’ll go with Rob’s definition as it describes me and my initiatives to a T. That definition can easily be applied to African Diaspora SEs. The projects we tend to work on are usually community-based initiatives, largely because of our proximity to said community.

    The greater good is always secondary to profits in terms of priority. Which is not to say that satisfying the number one rule in business – making profit – is overlooked. In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient to sustainability. Rather that, merely satisfying that requirement is incomplete if it does not satisfy the greater good. A good SE satisfies both these requirements simultaneously.

    A bad SE works for an organization funded by aid. #AfriFAIL

  8. How about this – what is social enterprise?


    Perhaps everything qualifies, but it’s the extent to which we’re prepared to help each other that counts most.

  9. I find it more useful to define a Social Enterprise – an entity that delivers social capital (infrastructure. good &/or services) using financially & operationally sustainable models. A social entrepreneur is little different from the traditoinal entrepreneur, save the purpose is to create/deliver social capital. Where I operate from (South Africa) the more esoteric (lets save the world and its mother) approaches are less relevant as we put our feet on Maslow’s lower rungs.

  10. here is a definition I found compelling:
    A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.

  11. Hash, I think the Wikipedia def describes your efforts to a tee, better than any other title I’ve seen assigned to you.

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