Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Social Entrepreneurs: The Hidden Profits

Social Entrepreneurship is a strain of entrepreneurship that has been gaining attention as of late. Traditionally, social entrepreneurship was often thought of as charity or volunteer work done by non-profit organizations or private individuals. While social entrepreneurship does often take this form, it is important to realize that social entrepreneurs go through much of the same process as other entrepreneurs. In fact, the classification of a social entrepreneurial endeavor as simply a “charity” hides the many similarities between social entrepreneurship and business entrepreneurship.

A few years ago my friend Nick Batter, currently a senior at Harvard University, went on a volunteer summer relief trip to Sri Lanka. The nation had just been devastated by the historic tsunami and Nick figured he’d travel with a large group like the Red Cross or UNICEF to help the relief efforts. Yet, he was advised that these large organizations were inefficient and had a very difficult time getting access to the hardest hit parts of the island. So Nick decided he would get a bunch of friends together, raise some money and use the money to oversee the implementation of sustainable projects that would better the village communities damaged by the catastrophic tsunami.

That was the summer of 2005. Now, three years later, Nick and his group of friends are in charge of a non-profit organization named Sri Lankan Aid. Their growth has been absolutely tremendous. From an initial budget of 25 cents, they have grown to close to $20,000 per summer trip. 100% of there money goes towards building facilities that village communities in Sri Lanka desperately need. This includes classrooms, orphanage wings, water pumps, village centers and many other things. They have also created a film documentary of their progress known as Lions and Tigers, which is set to be released in late 2008. Sri Lankan Aid has been recognized by Congressional members and by the former President of Sri Lanka. Each year the non-profit grows in size, and I feel honored to know these guys.

The primary reason why I bring up Nick is because he is a perfect example of what I consider to be a social entrepreneur. Social entrepreneurs, like business entrepreneurs, identify and try to resolve specific problems. Of course, their problems tend to have social or humanitarian connections, but they address the problems in similar manners. On the results side, social entrepreneurs tend to measure their success in terms of the magnitude of their impact on society rather than the amount of money they make. In that sense, being a social entrepreneur has profits far more valuable than silver and gold.

eClips has a growing collection of stories from social entrepreneurs. You also might want to check out the clips we have in the "Social Entrepreneur - Defined" theme or in the "Transfering Social Values To A Business Model" theme...

Allen
akm64@cornell.edu

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