The concept of social entrepreneurship is becoming more common and accepted both in the media and academic worlds. Just what is social entrepreneurship? As summarized by Wikepedia, a social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.
There are many different examples of social entrepreneurs, but perhaps the best known social entrepreneur currently is Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Graneen Bank who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Another one of my favorite examples of a social entrepreneur is Pura Vida Coffee. Pura Vida (which translates to Pure Life - a common phrase in Costa Rica) was started by two Harvard grads who had the "radical idea of putting the power of capitalism to work for the direct benefit of people in the developing countries where coffee is grown."
There are many different forms of social entrepreneurship. On one end, you have a nonprofit that needs to act entrepreneurial to simply survive. In the past 20 years, the number of nonprofit organizations has multiplied, making it more difficult to obtain donors and requiring more justification and quantification of the social benefits being provided. By integrating entrepreneurial principles, nonprofits can become more competitive and more efficient in providing their social benefits. Some nonprofits are even creating for-profit entities to help financially sustain them and reduce their reliance solely upon donations.
On the other end, there are for-profit firms that want to provide both financial and social returns. Perhaps Ben & Jerry's ice cream is a good example, where they have a product, economic and social mission. The extent to which financial and social returns are emphasized varies on a continuum.
What does social entrepreneurship have to do with you? Well, if you are trying to brainstorm a business idea, think about the social needs that exist. If you already have a for-profit business, you can still find creative ways to incorporate the social issues that are important to you.