12 Most Damaging Myths About Social Entrepreneurs
Profiteering, speculation, and the bastardization of capitalism have tainted our views about business. The failing economy and the lack of ethics in many industries have shown us how many bad eggs have risen to the top of some of the largest companies in America. Social entrepreneurs go against the grain, using entrepreneurship and capitalist drive to devise solutions to some of our worst social problems. They’re the answer not only to our economy but to issues such as obesity, institutional racism, poverty, sustainability, and other social concerns. Unfortunately there are many misperceptions about social entrepreneurship that are keeping many people from embracing this growing trend.
Myth 1: Only non-profits are social entrepreneurs
Truth is you can build a for-profit or a hybrid (half for-profit, half non-profit) business and be a social venture. Whole Foods is a highly successful for-profit venture addressing many social problems including health, sustainability, and poverty. TOMs shoes has a strong hybrid model that continues to attract new customers and media attention.
Myth 2: Making profit is inherently wrong and anti-social
Profit is a reward for assuming risk, for investing time and money in an organization or idea without any guarantee it will be a success. We all need incentives and all want to be rewarded for our hard work, time, and for doing something others aren’t willing or are too afraid to do. So long as you’re focused on helping people and give back to the community, profit is a good thing.
Myth 3: You can’t create a product or service that helps the underprivileged and make a living
To solve our problems we all need to be vested in the solution—that includes the people we are trying to help. You can create products and services for people in need and make a profit. You just have to think outside of the box. Vestergard Frandsen was able to give away water filters to an entire village by cleverly using EU credits to turn a profit. Progreso Financiero offers loans at rates developing Hispanic communities can afford. You can also look for ways to offset costs or to generate revenues from other products and markets.
Myth 4: Social Ventures aren’t scalable
Any venture—social or otherwise—is scalable. It all depends on the model, careful strategic planning, and managed growth.
Myth 5: Only “fluffy” industries and entrepreneurs make good social entrepreneurs
Tree huggers, hippies, and artists aren’t the only ones doing social good. Web developers, contractors, and yes even rough and tumble bikers are doing great things to make the world a better place.
Myth 6: Social entrepreneurs only care about developing countries. They don’t care about the people at home
There are social entrepreneurs of every shape and size working to solve problems both at home and abroad. A person in need is a person in need, no matter where they are or why they are in need.
Myth 7: Our social problems are just too big to solve
Every goal ever achieved was accomplished not because of one giant event, but because of the sum of thousands of small efforts. Darren Hardy calls this the “compound effect.” The more people chiseling away at an issue, the more progress we make. We’ll never get there if we just sit on our laurels. Our problems are too important to ignore any longer.
Myth 8: People don’t want to pay more for socially conscious goods
In reality people are willing to pay a social premium of 10% or more for socially conscious goods. People also prefer to get something for their money. Donations always decrease in a down economy, but people will buy goods that go to support a good cause, even if it means paying a little more. The success of Whole Foods and TOMs shoes is a testimony to that.
Myth 9: I have to wait until I’m rich or retired before I can do something meaningful
It only takes commitment to do something meaningful. Why waste your life. You might not ever get the chance.
Myth 10: Some problems can’t be solved with business
Every problem can be solved using entrepreneurial solutions. You just have to think outside the box. Building awareness isn’t enough though. You have to be driving at the heart of the problem.
Myth 11: I need a background in technology to start a social venture
Social ventures require people of varied talents, skills, and experience. Though many solutions come from technology, not all do. To solve a social problem a business must merge together people from different disciplines and try different approaches.
Myth 12: Social entrepreneurs aren’t real entrepreneurs
Social entrepreneurs must adhere to the same basic tenets of business—efficiency, profitability, scalability, managed growth, etc.—while also meeting social objectives. They are assuming risk, building organizations, addressing market needs, and creating sustainable firms just like any other business. Difference is they’ve added on the task of doing something more–giving back to the community that feeds them.
Bottom line, you can build a meaningful organization and make a good living. Nothing is impossible when paired with sound strategy, ethical practices, and a worthy cause. Attack these myths head on and start making a real difference for yourself and others.
Featured image courtesy of liquidnight licensed via creative commons.”>Gertrud K. licensed via creative commons.