The Rise of the Social Entrepreneurs

Social entrepreneurs start businesses that are committed to dedicating some or all of their profits to a cause.

| 7 min read

Having judged at the UK Business Awards in London and the International Business Awards in Amsterdam, I have had the privilege and opportunity to have a front row seat in seeing and hearing what companies are doing as they seek to develop customer centric organisations.

Every type of entrepreneur knows the importance of building a strong customer base. No customers, no business. Each of the companies I've judged appreciate the huge amount of competition in their marketplace and therefore innovation is something that they take seriously. Innovation will help to keep you relevant to your market.

From my insights, I've seen that forward-thinking companies are moving away from just trying to win a sale, to winning a customer's heart. This is where I believe companies can be very successful. Winning a customer's heart goes way beyond winning a sale. If a product can be purchased but has very little regard to the social environment, from the marketing to the delivery, it will ultimately struggle to win those hearts.

However, those products that take these factors into account will win many hearts. Why? Because there is a new alignment.

I've been in the business world for over 35 years, and what I witness today is a huge change in the hearts of people when it comes to caring for the planet. Social entrepreneurs and other types of entrepreneurs are leading well in this area.

Alignment is like the new currency when it comes to purchasing. As an example, look at the car manufacturing business. I know people now who will only buy an electric car because that is in alignment with their desire to look after the planet.

So, what we see here is that a brand can lose out if it is not in alignment with the customer's values of social care, even though it might functionally do the same thing. Smart companies understand it is about winning a customer's heart, through alignment with their values, the new buyer's currency that works.

The term social entrepreneur has been around for a number of years. However, in the 1980s this terminology gained traction in the USA. Today, though, there can still be some confusion on what a social entrepreneur does, and how a social entrepreneur differs to other entrepreneurs.

What Exactly Is a Social Entrepreneur?

One definition of social entrepreneur is that they use commercial strategies to help social and environmental issues. Social entrepreneurs start businesses that are committed to dedicating some or all of their profits to a cause. This provides customers and clients with the knowledge that their purchase will make an impact beyond just the business owners and shareholders. Like all businesses, a social entrepreneur must make commercial advances in order to have funding to meet the challenges they want to address. Because entrepreneurs are generally agile, tenacious, resilient, and passionate, applying those skills and traits to a social or environmental issue can often make a big difference for that issue.

Key Examples of Social Entrepreneurs

There are many social entrepreneurs who have developed sustainable businesses that make a difference in the world over the last few years, including:

  • Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank, an institution that provides microcredit loans to those in need to help them develop financial self-sufficiency.
  • Blake Mycoskie, who created TOMS, a business that donates one pair of shoes to needy people for every pair that’s bought.
  • Scott Harrison, creator of charity: water, which has delivered clean drinking water to more than a million people in 17 different countries around the world.

Social Entrepreneur Business Models

According to Inc. Magazine, Social Entrepreneurships come in 6 models, including:

  • Nonprofits that are funded by tax-deductible donations
  • Nonprofits with Earned Income
  • For Profits with a Social Mission – they give to causes
  • B Corporations that prove they care as much about society and the environment as they do about making a profit.
  • Hybrids – where a nonprofit is the subsidiary of a for profit and vice versa
  • Impact Investors who are seeking profits as well as social and environmental results

How Does A Social Entrepreneur Differ From Other Entrepreneurs?

In a social entrepreneurial business, the impact on the bottom line is not just focused on the profit, but how that profit will be reinvested. So, the bottom line could look like profit, people, and planet. This can often increase a business’ sales and profits. As a business growth consultant, I recognise that we live in a world that is going through so much change and challenge. When it comes to caring for the planet, the impact of a company and how they conduct business, can be a deciding factor of whether a customer does business with them or not.

You just have to look at how businesses are changing their ways when it comes to plastic and reducing their carbon footprint, CO2 emission, etc. The ability to balance commercial advance with care for people and the planet is a challenge, but one that many are rising to. This can set them apart from their competitors.

The Value of Working for a Social Entrepreneur

In today’s competitive workplace with low unemployment rates, employees are able to be more particular about the companies they work for. Many are attracted by the social entrepreneur business model because it allows them to work for a cause, keeping them motivated and focused on a purpose.

Key Similarities Between Social Entrepreneurs and Other Entrepreneurs

Just like other businesses, social entrepreneurs still need to create a sustainable business in order to succeed, including:

  • Mission statement
  • Research
  • Creating a unique offering
  • Business model
  • Initial funding sources

Research would suggest that the top two reasons why companies fail is cashflow and having no, or a poor, strategic business plan. Every entrepreneur, including social entrepreneurs, needs to have one. Nice reasons and nice thoughts won't cut it in the world of business advance.

I have judged a number of companies for the UK Business Awards as well as The International Business Awards, I see more and more companies taking on the challenge and opportunity to become recognised as companies that don’t just focus on people and profit but also the planet. This can have a very positive impact upon teams, building a strong and healthy approach to business.


There are many solid reasons to consider a social entrepreneurial business start-up or adding an element of social entrepreneurship to your existing business. The horizon has changed for the business world. Smart companies understand it is not just a case of winning a sale. Today it is about winning a customer's heart, which is achieved through alignment, the new buyer's currency that works.

Tony Lynch is a business growth consultant, mentor, and coach. He equips people and businesses for success and a better future. Tony is also a regular speaker at events (now online) as well as being a TEDx speaker and has been featured in Inc for the '100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference'. He has also been a Judge at the UK and International Business Awards in London and Amsterdam. For further details, please visit:

Nothing on this website should be construed as personal advice based on your circumstances. No news or research item is a personal recommendation to deal.

The Rise of the Social Entrepreneurs

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