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Social Entrepreneurship and Enterprise

Employers | Online Resources & Networking

Careers in Social Enterprise

According to J. Gregory Dees, in his article The Meaning of “Social Entrepreneurship,” [Social Entrepreneurship] implies a blurring of sector boundaries. In addition to innovative not-for-profit ventures, social entrepreneurship can include social purpose business ventures, such as for-profit community development banks, and hybrid organizations mixing not-for-profit and for-profit elements, such as homeless shelters that start businesses to train and employ their residents. The new language helps to broaden the playing field. Social entrepreneurs look for the most effective methods of serving their social missions.

Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, by:

  • Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
  • Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities that serve that mission,
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
  • Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
  • Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

Social enterprises require the application of management skills within the nonprofit, for-profit, and public sectors and contribute to the creation of social value. Some examples are:

  • An organization dedicated to social impact.
  • An organization or venture that advances its social mission through entrepreneurial earned income strategies.
  • A business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximize profit for shareholders and owners.

Careers in Social Enterprise

Many believe that social entrepreneurs should be distinguished from social enterprise professionals, just as entrepreneurs are separate from business managers. Both professions offer exciting opportunities, but frequently cater to different personal qualities. You will often hear these two professional opportunities lumped together under the banner of social enterprise, but we think distinguishing the two will help you in your pursuit of a career path.

Social entrepreneurship is not so much a career as it is a calling, a driving vision that compels one to dedicate a life to a particular social outcome. The creation and taking to scale of breakthrough enterprises in the social sector, whether nonprofit or for-profit, is at the core of social entrepreneurship. Most social entrepreneurs get started by finding a solution to an unresolved social problem, and taking action to mobilize resources toward this solution by creating a transformative enterprise.

Social enterprise professionals look to take on leadership roles within an existing organization, applying management techniques to achieve social impact within the context of the nonprofit, government, or business sectors. Many alumni/ae have chosen to work as professionals within an organization that supports social entrepreneurs, potentially a lower-risk and better-resourced environment that still offers the chance to work toward large-scale social change.

Potential Employers

Organizations Supporting Social Entrepreneurship

Starred organizations provide fellowships and seed funding for new social entrepreneurs.

Echoing Green Selects one to two dozen, American and global early-stage social entrepreneurs to support for two years.

E.M. Kauffman Foundation Encourages U.S. entrepreneurship, especially for youth.

Endeavor Supports a network of entrepreneurs in nine countries.

Lemelson Foundation Funds, encourages, and recognizes inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs, especially in the field of sustainable development.

Institute for Social Entrepreneurs Provides seminars, workshops and coaching services for social enterprises in the U.S. and around the world.

NESsT Supports the development of social enterprises in emerging democracies worldwide through venture funding and education.

New ProfitA venture philanthropy fund providing the necessary resources for social entrepreneurs to achieve their visions.

• New Sector Alliance A social enterprise venture capital firm that strengthens organizations today while developing leaders for tomorrow.

Omidyar Network Supports dozens of non- and for-profit social entrepreneurs in the microfinance, participatory media, philanthropic markets, and government transparency sectors.

Root Cause A Cambridge organization that advances solutions to social and economic problems by supporting social innovators and educating social impact investors.

• Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship Selects international social entrepreneurs each year to participate in the World Economic Forum.

Skoll Foundation Identifies and gives major funding to established social enterprises each year.

Social Enterprise Coalition The U.K. national body for social enterprise, focusing on social businesses and community development trusts.

StartingBloc Brings the latest innovations in corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship to emerging leaders through their Institute for Social Innovation.

TIE Boston An entrepreneur network with mentors and local events.

Online Resources



Harvard Social Enterprise Conference – Generally held in February at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Net Impact Conference – Hosted in October by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. Brings together both graduate students and professionals to explore the latest ideas, tools, and careers that use business to achieve social and environmental good.

Nonprofit Technology Conference – Hosted in April by The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

SOCAP10 - Hosted in October by Social Capital Markets: At the Intersection of Money and Learning.

Social Enterprise Summit/World Forum - Hosted in April by the Social Enterprise Alliance. Don’t miss this international forum advocating for increased social impact through social enterprise.

** Dates and locations of these conferences are subject to change from year to year. Please check organization websites for up to date information.