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Spotlight on Walden // May 21, 2014

Top 10 Reasons Why Social Entrepreneurs Matter

Editor’s note: Dr. Emad Rahim is an award-winning entrepreneur, educator, author, and community leader. He was recognized in Empact Showcase’s 2013 Empact100 List for his social entrepreneurship work at the United Nations headquarters. He also received a Congressional Award for his community service and was the recipient of the Forty Under 40 Business Leadership Award sponsored by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management and The Central New York Business Journal. His personal story was turned into a short documentary, “Against the Odds,” and featured in the Huffington Post and IntelligentHQ.

In a global business world replete with economically oriented announcements, social entrepreneurs bring another perspective to social trends, highlighting key factors that promote social welfare or launching initiatives that improve living conditions in specific areas. They usually venture into industries unexplored by traditional capitalism, reshaping the way we live, think, consume, and interact at the national and global levels. Social entrepreneurs improve people’s lives by spearheading essential projects that initially don’t have a profit motive—even if these initiatives later bear economic fruit.

Social entrepreneurs matter for a host of reasons, from the mundane to the significant, and play key roles in today’s society:

  1. They draw attention to a pressing problem: Social initiators—another word for social entrepreneurs—improve the lives of citizens by highlighting pressing problems that might plague a neighborhood, country, or group of people.

  2. They create economic value: By creating jobs, producing income, and nurturing an entire network of business partners—suppliers, shipping companies, lenders, and utility companies—social entrepreneurs contribute to the economic renewal of the region or country where they live and operate. Add to that the multiplier effect, in which employees of socially oriented organizations also have the opportunity to spend their income and grow the local economy.

  3. They act as catalysts for social change: Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, epitomizes the ability of social entrepreneurs to spearhead positive change not only locally, but also globally. The Grameen Bank has received plaudits for promoting microfinance and microcredit, lifting millions of underprivileged customers out of poverty by funding local projects at favorable conditions.

  4. They generate social value: “Social value” is the general improvement you see in a society, typically across the board. In addition to impact on people, other advantageous influences include sustainable environmental practices, high literacy for the underprivileged, a free flow of information among citizens, reduced health hazards, and increased innovation from educated and healthy citizens.

  5. They inspire others: Social initiators inspire others to do good, and sometimes great, things—simple as that. Their ability to espouse great ideas and bring others on board serves as a powerful catalyst to create a virtuous circle. In addition to well-known social entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, there are lesser-known but also effective social entrepreneurs who bring about change every day in the communities where they live and work.

  6. They can influence government policy: All around the world, movements inspired or spearheaded by social initiators have gathered strong popular support, which in turn has helped the political willpower needed to make fundamental changes. Whether it is in public health, environmental awareness, occupational safety, or education, socially oriented initiatives have transformed the way we live, work, and vote on the fundamental issues of the day.

  7. They create unique opportunities: Social entrepreneurs, by their very actions and initiatives, can provide unique opportunities for millions of individuals around the world. For example, Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun created d.light to provide portable solar lamps to the world’s 2.5 billion people who don’t have access to reliable electricity. In lieu of dangerous and dirty kerosene lamps, d.light provides users with solar lamps that are clean and can emit light for up to 12 hours.

  8. They reshape corporate social responsibility: Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has gained momentum in the business world recently, but some social entrepreneurs want to make sure companies don’t use CSR simply as a public relations ploy. The concern for real and sustainable CSR has prompted Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy to launch B Lab, which certifies businesses complying with a variety of social and environmental criteria, emphasizing things like financial transparency, employee ownership, and Fair Trade certification.

  9. They can change people’s behaviors: In their quest for a better world, social initiators often come up with simple and easy-to-implement solutions that change or improve people’s behaviors. Daniel Yates, for example, has created Opower to help people reduce their energy consumption by allowing customers to easily compare their electricity and gas consumption with their neighbors’ consumption and then providing them energy-saving advice.

  10. They save lives: Perhaps the most noteworthy impact of social entrepreneurs is their ability to literally save lives. Jane Chen’s global initiative, Embrace, has received accolades for creating the Embrace Warmer, a device that keeps low-birth-weight babies warm even when there is a power outage in hospitals and clinics. Looking like a miniature sleeping bag, the Embrace Warmer provides a lifesaving four to six hours of heat on a single 30-minute charge.

Everyone has the power to make a positive difference, whether big or small, local or global. Take the quiz to discover what kind of social change agent are you at