11 Inspiring Examples of Social Entrepreneurship

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of people riding on a rocket

Social entrepreneurship may be a relatively new term, but the principles and objectives behind the concept have been around for decades. Social entrepreneurs are essentially a new breed of business-minded people who have evolved with a universal goal of making the world a better place while also running profitable companies that satisfy consumers' demand. This may be a new way of going solo in the business world rather than maintaining the status quo and depending on what used to work. 

Over the years, social entrepreneurs have recognised the faults, negatives and unfairness in society and have taken steps to reverse them through innovative measures. This may be considered a new form of the free-enterprise system, but these ideas have been prevalent throughout market history. From Florence Nightingale to Gifford Pinchot to Maria Montessori, you will find many examples of social entrepreneurship in the last century.  

So, who are the business owners that are embracing the concept today? We have compiled a list of social entrepreneurs who have made enormous contributions to society and set an example for others. 

1. William Drayton

William Drayton is considered to be the pioneering social entrepreneur of modern times, having an impact on millions of lives. He is the founder and chair of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, an organisation that is dedicated to fostering and promoting social entrepreneurs globally. Drayton's goal has been to develop innovative solutions to the current social problems faced by the masses. He has continued to foster ideas of social entrepreneurship so that the world would become a better place to live in.  

'Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionised the fishing industry' he said.

2. Rachel Brathen

Rachel Brathen is a well-known teacher of yoga. Her book, Yoga Girl, has sold numerous copies and made her an overnight sensation. Born in Sweden, Rachael moved to Costa Rica where she espoused a healthy lifestyle and preservation of the environment. Over the past decade, she has founded several yoga studios and is considered to be an important social media influencer in the world of fitness. She has a huge following on Instagram, and just one post commands a fee of $25,000. 

Fluent in four languages, Rachel's social goals are to help solve global problems like water pollution, food security and gender inequality. 

3. Shiza Shahih 

Shiza Shahid is a Pakistani social entrepreneur and co-founder and former CEO of the non-profit Malala Fund, which has become famous for promoting education for all girls around the world. Shiza graduated from Stanford and then returned to Pakistan to fight for the rights of girls and women in society. 

Her chief goal has been to ensure that all girls in her nation receive an education. In the last few years, she has helped with the funding of several innovative startups. She was also once a mentor to the youngest Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai. 

4. Willie Smits 

Willie Smits is a Dutch social entrepreneur who has made some of the greatest strides in saving the Orangutans from extinction. It was while he was working in Indonesia that he realised that baby orangutans were often caged, abused and killed by the locals. Soon he set about rescuing and rehabilitating other orangutans and founded the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. 

While working with wildlife, he also introduced the concepts of reforestation, sustainable farming and monitoring of the forests in Indonesia. Wille brought awareness that even one person can help reverse the damage done by humans to the environment and wildlife. 

5. Blake Mycoskie

Blake Mycoskie is slowly trending his way up on the social entrepreneurship ladder. Founder and chief shoe giver of TOMS, he developed a business model that helps another individual with every product purchased. Over the past 15 years, TOMS Shoes has provided footwear for nearly 86 million children. In addition, TOMS eyewear has helped restore sight to 600,000 people and provided thousands of others with safe drinking water. He has also created the TOMS bag collection, which provides birth kits for pregnant women. 

Blake came from a middle-class family and had everything provided for him, but it was a trip to Argentina in 2006 that made him aware of the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. 

6. Scott Harrison 

Scott Harrison is the CEO of the non-profit charity, WATER. Born in a life of luxury, Scott headed to West Africa to volunteer on a hospital ship, called Mercy Ships. This watershed moment changed his perspective of life; he realised that millions of people had no access to safe drinking water. Therefore, he founded the charity, Waters, which has now funded more than 28,000 projects globally and raised millions of dollars to help create facilities for drinking water. 

Scott continues to fund water projects in developing nations and is focused on the education of the masses about sanitation.  

7. Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is a social entrepreneur from Bangladesh. He was awarded the Nobel peace prize for founding Grameen Bank. Muhammad pioneered the concept of microfinancing and microcredit. His ideology helped many underprivileged people get small loans from the Grameen Bank so that they could develop their own business. 

The Nobel prize committee stated on the work of Yunus: 'Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty,' adding that 'across cultures and civilisations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.' 

Yunus has received many honours and continues to implement so-called humane capitalism so that the poor can overcome financial difficulties. 

8. Jeffrey Hollender

Jeffrey Hollender is an American social entrepreneur and former CEO of Seventh Generation. He is a big advocate of corporate social responsibility and has authored many books on the subject. In 2014, he launched Sustain Natural, the first company to manufacture non-toxic condoms. The company's mission has been to help the masses make the connection between hunger, poverty, condoms and healthcare.  

In an interview with brandchannel he said: 

'We will never solve the myriad of complex problems we face one at a time. Social inequity produces poverty, poverty results in hunger, hunger encourages unsustainable agricultural practices that result in global climate change. Sustain is about recognising connections, and taking on the system, not the individual problems.' 

9. Marc Koska

Marc Koska is an Englishman who became a big-league social entrepreneur in the field of medicine. In 1984, he read that a needle stick could transmit HIV and that healthcare workers would be at risk when drawing blood from patients. That led him to develop the first non-reusable K1 auto-disable syringe. 

Since that, he has advised several safety mechanisms in needles and syringes used in medicine so that healthcare workers are not injured. His charity, SafePoint Trust, has distributed millions of auto-disable syringes in over three dozen countries. Mark has been recognised by the Schwab foundation for his contribution to a significant health issue. 

10. 'Bunker' Roy

'Bunker' Roy is an Indian social entrepreneur who founded Barefoot College. He became aware of the problem of drought in India at an early age and realised that just collecting rainwater was not the solution. His mission was to provide a more sustainable way to irrigate the land and, at the same time, produce clean drinking water for the community. 

His national programme helped introduce water pumps and training to the local population. He also helped introduce solar power so that the locals would rely less on kerosene for heat and light. His Barefoot College has trained millions of people with the necessary skills to maintain a sustainable environment.

11. Akhtar Hameed Khan

Akhtar Hameed Khan is a pioneer of the microfinance world. He has dedicated his life to developing rural communities at a time when urban centres are becoming uninhabitable for too many young people. His work led to his nomination for the Nobel prize. 

This new breed of social entrepreneurs is more recognised for their contributions to society than for their profitability goals. Activities and initiatives of social entrepreneurs tend to affect the masses, across geographical borders when they start their businesses

Social entrepreneurship has spawned so many different types of causes, including conscious consumerism, ethical decision-making, helping disadvantaged communities and philanthropy. Since the new generation of consumers value corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship might become a crucial element of business models for even the largest corporations in the world. 

What's your startup idea to change the world? Join the conversation in the comments section below!