Before we get into what social entrepreneurs are, let’s familiarize ourselves with what an entrepreneur is or enterprise:
Enterprise is the combination of attitudes and skills that helps an individual turn an idea into reality. Many people think ‘if only…’, but do nothing about it; entrepreneurs show the enterprise to stop dreaming and get working.
For more on entrepreneurs and enterprise, I suggest you have a look at my article What is an Entrepreneur?
As in the case of Duncan Goose (read below), some people are true social entrepreneurs. The way they achieve their personal goals is through an enterprise that has a purpose other than profit-making. Yet it would be wise to be sceptical. For every one person who is a true social entrepreneur, there are probably ten who cover their financial ambitions in ‘green’ or charitable clothing. If ‘carbon neutral’ is a message that sells, many will adopt the slogan as a way to boost profit. Despite this, the fact that true social entrepreneurs exist means that it would be simplistic to suggest that all business start-ups are about making money.
Social entrepreneur Duncan Goose had, by mid-2007, established One Water as a £1.5 million brand. It was funding the building of a new water pump in Africa every ten days, and he was able to focus the six staff on his primary objective: one new water pump built every day.
Yet he was already looking ahead to his second project, One Condom. This would find HIV/AIDS projects from profits made selling condoms in the UK. Vending machines at universities would be his first target. But launching a new idea takes time and money – and he was short of both. If One Condom drained Duncan’s energies and those of his staff, what might be the effect on One Water? Duncan had to make a careful assessment of whether or not to start up One Condom.
Although he could see the reasons against, Duncan decided to go ahead. His objective in giving up a comfortable job and salary to start One Condom was to make the world a better place. How could he stop now? The opportunity was there for building on One Water’s success, so it would seem wrong to stop. The risks of failure only made it more of a challenge. Duncan made an assessment of the risks, costs and benefits of starting One Condom, but was motivated mainly by his personality. He wanted the challenge.