Qualities of a Social Entrepreneur



The need for change is urgent. We are hemmed in at every turn by burgeoning health, economic, environmental, and social crises. Most citizens respond to the onslaught of problems by drowning in distractions or adopting attitudes of apathy. Others would like to take action, but don't know where to start, paralyzed by the sheer scope of the problems.


And then burgeoning class of people who are finding ways to respond to these terrifying problems with creativity, energy, and optimism. They are tackling local, regional, and global problems with bold ideas an new tools. They see the problems that are being ignored, mishandled, or blatantly exploited by traditional institutions, and they are creating their own solutions.


The Habits Against Apathy


Social entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. But they do share some basic temperamental qualities. And the research shows that their impact is less a function of inborn personality traits, and more a product of the patterns of behavior they adopt.


  • They are comfortable with uncertainty.

  • They have a high need for autonomy.

  • They have a bias towards action.

  • They prioritize human dignity.


Although some individuals are born with more entrepreneurial tendencies than others, management expert Peter Drucker argued that most people can learn to behave like entrepreneurs. So, social entreprenuership is simply a habit.


Greg Dees, who has been referred to as the father of social entreprenuership education, described social entrepreneurs as "a rare breed of leader". They create new combinations of people and resources to significantly improve society's capacity to address social problems. The people who manage to see beyond existing frameworks have three key qualities that stand out.

  1. Curiosity: a passionate interest in simple, seemly childish questions.

  2. Openness: the practice of challenging one's own fundamental assumptions.

  3. Persistence: the determination to look for and find the source of the problem.


The Odd Combinations


Social entrepreneurs are bridge-builders and fusion-makers. They are masters at combining old ideas in new ways. If they 'specialize' in anything, it's in bringing people together who wouldn't otherwise coalesce. They are adept at bridging silos, and breaking down the artificial barriers we build between sectors, industries, people, and ideologies, in order to forge solutions we never saw.


It also takes a curious combination of sensitivity and stubbornness, humility and audacity, restlessness and patience to lead change in the face of indifference, habit, apathy, resource constraints, vested interests, and institutional defenses.


Social entrepreneurs help others envision new possibilities, appreciate their potential, and recognize how it can be broken down into doable steps that build momentum for change.


Extreme Ownership


This wont work if people lack a sense of ownership for the change. People seeking solutions are no longer willing to wait for governments, corporations, churches, or universities to lead. Traditional institutions and international aid efforts have often met with limited success of outright failure. It is becoming more natural for citizens to take the lead in creating real solutions to social problems.


Because of the size of the global population, the pace of change, the spread of technology, the urgency of crises, and the interdependence that has all but evaporated old boundaries, we have no choice but to respond quickly. We must be better to positioned to continually create new solutions as conditions change.


The Power of Human Potential


Today's changemakers share one common feature: they are creating platforms that unleash human potential. They struggle to increase the number of people who have the opportunity to contribute their talents to the world. And in doing so, they help more people live with dignity.


And social entreprenuership is contagious. Every person who starts a social change venture emboldens others to pursue their own ideas for change. So as you create your own solutions, you'll inspire others to create solutions too.