by Nancy Turnage, VRPS Central Office
It all started with an inbox invitation; some big names are doing the inviting, presenting and sponsoring for an event titled Virginia Social Entrepreneurship Networking. Individually, I understand each of those terms, but collectively, I don't know what they mean. And, after some research, I'm still not sure I do, but I'm definitely interested now.
One of the best, and most inspiring, definitions was published by PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) in 2005. Most people, myself included, tend to feel that PBS is a worthy, unbiased source. They call Social Entrepreneurs "the new heroes" and showcased fourteen.
A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.
Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs primarily seek to generate "social value" rather than profits. And unlike the majority of non-profit organizations, their work is targeted not only towards immediate, small-scale effects, but sweeping, long-term change.
The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck. He or she finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.
Identifying and solving large-scale social problems requires a committed person with a vision and determination to persist in the face of daunting odds. Ultimately, social entrepreneurs are driven to produce measurable impact by opening up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged, and unlocking society's full potential to effect social change.
The past two decades have seen an explosion of entrepreneurship and a healthy competition in the social sector, which has discovered what the business sector learned from the railroad, the stock market and the digital revolution: Nothing is as powerful as a big new idea if it is in the hands of a first class entrepreneur.
This revolution is fundamentally changing the way society organizes itself and the way we approach social problems.
"Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They view the villagers as the solution, not the passive beneficiary. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they're serving."
TThe definition seems fairly vague, but the idea is there - and encouraging. If VRPSers sit back and take a look at their efforts, where do they see themselves fitting? Are they part of the "new heroes" movement?
David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas