Overview of Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs are key drivers of Unite For Sight’s success in creating long-lasting change in impoverished communities. Much like traditional entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs home in on innovative opportunities to introduce new products, processes, or organizational structures in order to generate a continual profit. However, while entrepreneurs define profit as a distinct monetary value, social entrepreneurs measure profit by the amount of sustainable social good a business brings to a community.(1)

This aspect of sustainability is vital. Simply put, sustainability is what separates social entrepreneurship from simple charity. Charitable organizations rely on donor funds to temporarily mitigate immediate problems, such as providing food for the poor. Social entrepreneurs, on the other hand, use donor funds to generate self-sustaining social ventures; to continue the analogy, they teach the poor how to grow their own food. In this sense, social entrepreneurs focus on opportunities to provide maintainable, large-scale solutions to worldwide problems.(2)

This does not mean that social entrepreneurs do not participate in the exchange of goods and services for money. On the contrary, engaging in business transactions with target communities is vital to ensuring that the social venture is self-sustainable.  These business transactions can be moral and ethical, even if performed at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) - the more than 4 billion people who earn less than $1500 annually.(3) The key is value creation. In order to generate value, social ventures and other businesses that target the BoP must have goods and services that are useful (i.e. the product tackles the root causes of poverty) and affordable (i.e. the product is reasonably priced for the BoP). As long as these basic tenets of affordability and usefulness are met, businesses and social entrepreneurs can ethically sell to the BoP. On the other hand, exploitative businesses – such as health care providers run by non-medically trained staff – are not only unethical, but morally problematic as well.(4)

Unite For Sight’s programs are sustainable because of collaborative partnerships with value-creating, local social entrepreneurs and partner eye clinics. These local social entrepreneurs provide the expertise necessary to determine community-specific barriers to care and to craft local solutions that can positively affect the region. The human and financial resources provided by Unite For Sight allow for the development of programs that deliver continuous, high-quality, and cost-effective eye care to the world’s poorest individuals. By emphasizing the development and cultivation of partner eye clinics, Unite For Sight significantly increases the number of annual surgeries performed, while ensuring a positive patient outcome. Furthermore, these cooperative ventures enable local community members to engage in outreach activities, thereby educating others and raising awareness in last-mile communities. Unite For Sight supports local social entrepreneurs, and in the process, generates sustainable change in the world.

For more information on Social Entrepreneurship, please see our Social Entrepreneurship Online Course.

Footnotes

(1) Dees, J. Gregory. “The Meaning of ‘Social Entrepreneurship’”. Accessed May 16, 2011.

(2) Martin, Roger and Sally Osberg. “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case For Definition”. Stanford Social Innovation Review (2007): 28-39. Accessed May 16, 2011.

(3) Prahalad, C.K. and Stuart L. Hart. “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. strategy + business (2002): 1Q; 26. Accessed May 16, 2011.

(4) Simanis, Erik and Stuart L. Hart. “The Base of the Pyramid Protocol: Toward Next Generation BoP Strategy”. Accessed May 16, 2011.