Social Entrepreneurship | Sunday Observer

Social Entrepreneurship

“An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down”

- Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn and Ex-Vice President of PayPal

The word ‘Entrepreneur’ is described in most of the English dictionaries as, ‘a person who sets up a business (or businesses), taking on financial risks with the hope of profit’. Therefore, ‘Entrepreneurship’ is described as the ‘activity of setting up a business, taking on financial risks with the hope of profit’. There are lots of higher education institutions around the world offering courses and some even complete degree programs in entrepreneurship. Almost all these courses are packed with topics such as, consumer behaviour, business accounting, business law, marketing and finance. Whichever aspect one looks at, entrepreneurship, as we have come to know today, almost always deals with the formation of business enterprises and introducing new business ideas.

But the evolution of the word gives a broader picture about its usage and meaning. The etymology of the word describes the blending of the two Latin words ‘entre’, meaning ‘between or being in the midst of or to swim across’, and ‘prendes’, meaning to ‘understand or grasp’. ‘Entrepreneur’, claims a close kinship to the French word ‘entreprendre’, meaning ‘undertake or advent’ and also distant ties to the English word ‘enterprise.’

It is interesting to see how the word ‘Entrepreneur’ can claim a Sanskrit heritage through the blending of the two words ‘anta’ (shortened from ‘antasth’), meaning ‘being in the midst of or between’ and ‘prerna’, meaning ‘motivation or initiative’ giving rise to ‘antaprerna’ meaning ‘inner motivation or self-motivation’.

Within this framework a French economist named Jean-Baptiste Say is supposed to have coined the word ‘Entrepreneurs’, in the early 1800s, to describe a particular group of people who played an important role in the economy of a nation.

According to Say, this was the faction of society who intentionally searched for situations where the resources and capital were not used efficiently and introduced innovative ideas to move them into more productive areas to get a higher yield.

Say was particularly motivated to do this after noticing that the book ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ by the philosopher Adam Smith which introduced the basic cause and effect process of modern capitalism which had overlooked this particular aspect of society completely.

In answering the question, ‘What was the most important document published in 1776’?, some American economists still struggle to choose whether it is the Declaration of Independence or the ‘Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith which shows how informative the book was.

Perhaps it was that detailed description of the capitalist economy itself, that helped Say notice the oversight of the contribution of the self-motivated group of people in ‘Wealth of Nations’. One might say that Jean-Baptiste Say was motivated by his feeling of responsibility to society where he could help to complete the story of ‘Wealth of Nations’ by bringing the missing piece of the puzzle into light. He wouldn’t have even imagined that the word he constructed would become a staple in the menus of degree programs, economic plans and policy statements of governments of countries in just two centuries.

Even in this most commonly used context of the word, there can be three different types of entrepreneurs: The Creator, The Builder and The Operator.

Creative mind

The Creator has a brilliant creative mind with great enthusiasm about a specific product but may have difficulties in focusing on one project for a longer period of time. The Builder has the ability to build the business around a credible idea or a product and motivate employees to push the growth of the business.

The Operator is normally detail-oriented and is capable of getting the company organised by putting the proper procedures in place with long-term goals in mind. That is why we see sometimes one entrepreneur wearing these different hats at different stages of the journey from an innovative idea to a successful business, and different members of a group of entrepreneurs leading these different stages of the same project, at other times. We can also categorise entrepreneurship into different areas mainly depending on the framework within which it is introduced and of course on the ultimate objective.

There can be small business, large company, scalable startup and imitator, opportunistic, acquisitive, administrative and social entrepreneurships, among many others. Social entrepreneurship is where entrepreneurs develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural and environmental issues under either a for-profit or a non-profit framework.

It can be a blend of a for-profit organisation with the primary intention of using the profit to fund other non-profit or charity organisations. This concept can even be considered as an attempt to blend capitalism with socialism where the profit making is done within the capitalist system and profit sharing is done according to a socialist ideology.

Social entrepreneurship is often seen operated through social media where the idea can be distributed to millions in a second.

This is just one place where companies operating the social media sites have to be vigilant in keeping their consumers safe from racketeers. Social entrepreneurs have stated that the self-satisfaction they get by contributing positively to the process of finding sustainable solutions to important issues in society is more rewarding and motivating than just focusing on the business aspects and profit making.

It has connected them to their life’s purpose while being able to help others with the same.

Most of all, they say that social entrepreneurship is what today’s consumers want. There are many NGOs and some political organisations and think tanks run by social entrepreneurs around the world. While there are no constraints for social entrepreneurship in any field, education and healthcare, understandably, are two areas that have welcomed more social entrepreneurs around the world.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]

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