Who is a social Entrepreneur ( and who is not)

Is Airtel a social enterprise because it provides affordable telephony to masses and thereby improving their lives and livelihoods?

Is Hindustan lever who makes good quality affordable soaps and sells them in rural areas in India a social enterprise because every time someone washes their hands with them they are promoting cleanliness .?

Is no tobacco chewing gum manufacturer a social entrepreneur because he is helping people fight tobacco addiction and hence better health?

I’m sure you can come out with countless examples of where companies and individuals are doing is producing social good. But we don’t necessarily see these companies as social enterprises or the individuals are social entrepreneurs.  And if a group of entrepreneurs are social entrepreneurs does that make others “Anti Social entrepreneurs”. Or just entrepreneurs.

Currently I’m in the process of setting up UnLtd Delhi, a launch pad for social entrepreneurs. UnLtd Delhi supports early stage social entrepreneurs with seed funding, coaching, mentoring and leadership training support to name a few. Soon we will be inviting applications from potential investees. On our application form and website we would like to be able to clearly demonstrate to a potential applicant whether they are social entrepreneurs or not. We need a clear definition with some great examples.

I did a review of what is available on the internet from leading organisations such as Ashoka, Schwab, Skoll etc. There is no single definition or easy way to explain who is a social entrepreneur and who is not.

Stanford Social Innovation review makes a compelling case for having a definition for social enterprises and entrepreneurs. 


This is how Ashoka, one the leading organisations that supports social entrepreneurs defines who is a social entrepreneur.

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.

you can read more here.

Two tuck business school students define social enterprises more clearly. They did a study of social enterprises across the world and came to this conclusion that even though social enterprises are run like a business and they should be but what differentiate them from other enterprises is that ” they are social mission central” and and for them success is not only about generating free cash flows but creating social value. You can read more about their study here .

Schwab foundation that supports social entrepreneurs focusses more on innovation, scale, social value and sustainability and not on the type of organisation that they have set up. They define social entrepreneurs as someone who exhibits combined characteristics of Richard Branson and Mother Teresa. So how do I know if I have any of these traits or someone might ask.. who is Richard Branson ?

This brings us back to the original question. How to clearly demonstrate to a potential applicant who comes to UnLtd Delhi’s website whether they are a social entrepreneur or not. Not to academics, not to people who work in the social enterprise space but to those potentials applicants who are not sure of if UnLtd Delhi is the right place for them. 

As far as UnLtd Delhi is concerned we are looking for individuals who want to solve a social problem and that is at the heart of what they do. Today they might do X to reach their objective but if that doesn’t work out then they will change their method and still aim to solve the social problem which got them started in the first place.



2 thoughts on “Who is a social Entrepreneur ( and who is not)

  1. Some tangible points to ponder upon. One, social welfare should be centric to the survival of the social enterprise and not a by product. The business has come into existence because it intends to serve a social need. Two, if your profit margins are greater than say 20% then it will be difficult for you to qualify as a social enterprise; so a general upper limit on the profit margins is also needed.

    Hope you find the holy grail

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