Home Advice For The Young At Heart Is Social Entrepreneurship Sustainable?

[ADV] Is Social Entrepreneurship Sustainable?



You might have read about it on the blogs, forums, journals, newspapers, or heard about it from business seminars, podcasts and business talk shows. A would-be entrepreneur watching over the current trend must have stumbled upon these words before and have a pretty good idea of what it means. Social Entrepreneurship – what does it really mean and is it sustainable in its own form?

A Clearer View

Many definitions have been written. Contrary to popular belief, social entrepreneurship is more than just charity business. Here’s to our attempt to provide a clearer definition:

The Skoll Foundation, one of the leading foundations in the field of social entrepreneurship, defines social entrepreneurs as “society’s change agents: creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world for the better.” To support that, Wikipedia reads, “A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organise, create, and manage a venture to make social change.”

The difference between a business entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur is that though both are geared towards making profit, a business entrepreneur measures performance in profit and return while a social entrepreneur focuses more on creating social capital. In simple terms, more than gaining profit out of the business, social entrepreneurs aim to provide people a source of income and teaching them how to fish for themselves in the long run.

A staple question that sparks debate whenever the topic is brought up is whether social entrepreneurship is sustainable or not. Ingrid Burkett, Social Innovations Manager of Foresters Community Finance in Australia, posted the ultimate question and provided an answer herself. ‘Can social enterprises become sustainable after 2 or 3 years (because that’s how long the funding is expected to last)’? In this context, ‘sustainable’ means “the enterprise is no longer dependent on grant funding”. According to Burkett, we cannot begin to expect an enterprise to become sustainable until it is demonstrated that it can achieve both impact and operational outcomes over a period of time.

Is it sustainable? Give.sg says YES!

In an interview with key social enterprise leaders at the 2010 Social Enterprise Summit in San Francisco, social entrepreneurship is viewed as a tool for social change leading to common good. It’s also regarded as an effective strategy for productivity, which leads to innovation. A social enterprise should be sustainable, profitable and just. A social enterprise requires the society’s participation and such model offers possibility that after a period of incentives and encouragement, government or donor support, it would be possible to be sustainable by itself. A perfect example is Give.sg, the top winner in last year’s ideas.inc Business Challenge. Give.sg uses technological innovation to create a platform for fundraising activities that create social impact (read here for a previous interview with them on Young Upstarts). It is sustainable because people find it convenient and valuable, profitable because it no longer depends on the funding and just, because it powerfully changes people’s lives.

According to Mike Olsen, founder of Kilifi Kids, the keys to create a sustainable entrepreneurship are 1) the right people and 2) having a good business sense. The right people know what they are doing, know about the community and the culture, and know what the community needs. Having a good business sense means not just measuring the profits but counting how many people are helping.

We therefore conclude that social entrepreneurship is sustainable if you have the right people and a good business plan (which of course includes a perpetually pure goal of helping the community). What drives the people to participate is the idea that the business is doing it to help more and more people improve their lives.

Do you have an idea in mind? Do you see yourself as a social custodian and have that passion of making the community a better place through your innovative ideas? Join ideas.inc Business Challenge today and together, let us make this world a better place to live in.

Ideas.Inc. Business Challenge 2010 is an advertising partner of Young Upstarts.


  1. It’s all about good karma in the end… and no matter how social entrepreneurship may sound like science fiction these days, believe me… there are plenty of good-hearted entrepreneurs out there who want to be given the chance to change the way the world works – if only they got the cash to fund their dreams in the first place. Money is everything these days. Now, who can transcend this challenge to pursue that dream of excellence? Who ‘really’ cares? That’s where social entrepreneurship will start.

  2. Good people, good cause, and, yes, that very important business plan. Glad you included that! Part of that plan should be an assessment of the competition, to make sure that your idea, however good, is not replicated more than the market needs. 

  3. Anyone interested in this topic might like to attend this event: Meet Cindy Gallop
    Monday 03 January 2011 · 18:00 – 23:30
    Hackerspace.sg 70A Bussorah Street, Singapore (off Beach Road, parallel to Arab Street, Bugis MRT nearest)

    Cindy Gallop, the founder of http://ifwerantheworld.com/ is in town to meet individuals who are active in the field of social change. Would Singapore be a good test market for this? Changemakers please come to this show-and-tell dinner-and-drinks session to share your story of social change in Asia. Be warned, Cindy will grill you pretty intensely.

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