What Is Social Entrepreneurship by Calvin Eaton

Did you know that 540WMain initially started as a for profit social enterprise. However I quickly realized that not many in Rochester knew what that meant let alone understood the concept of social entrepreneurship, conscious capitalism or like terms so I adjusted our mission to be non-profit but at the core we are a social enterprise.

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

According to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship; A social entrepreneur is a leader or pragmatic visionary who:

  • Achieves large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.
  • Focuses first and foremost on the social and/or ecological value creation and tries to optimize the financial value creation.
  • Innovates by finding a new product, a new service, or a new approach to a social problem.
  • Continuously refines and adapts approach in response to feedback.
  • Combines the characteristics represented by Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.

As the Founder and Executive Director of 540WMain I consider myself a social entrepreneur. Social entrepreneurs drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development. They pursue poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices. A social entrepreneur, similar to a business entrepreneur, builds strong and sustainable organizations. Contrary to myth these organizations can be for profit or not-for-profit.

Social entrepreneurs share some come common traits including:

  • An unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development
  • A driving passion to make that happen.
  • A practical but innovative stance to a social problem, often using market principles and forces, coupled with dogged determination, that allows them to break away from constraints imposed by ideology or field of discipline, and pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t dare.
  • A zeal to measure and monitor their impact. Entrepreneurs have high standards, particularly in relation to their own organization’s efforts and in response to the communities with which they engage. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, are their key tools, guiding continuous feedback and improvement.
  • A healthy impatience. Social Entrepreneurs cannot sit back and wait for change to happen – they are the change drivers.

What is Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship about applying practical, innovative and sustainable approaches to benefit society in general, with an emphasis on those who are marginalized, underrepresented, and impoverished. One has to capture a unique approach to economic and social problems, an approach that cuts across sectors and disciplines grounded in certain values and processes that are common to each social entrepreneur, independent of whether his/ her area of focus has been education, health, welfare reform, human rights, workers’ rights, environment, economic development, agriculture, etc., or whether the organizations they set up are non-profit or for-profit entities.

What Does it All Mean?

In a nutshell, organizations (like 540WMain) and their leaders vested in a conscious capitalist approach to business are concerned with more than just their bottom line. The vision is all about recognizing critical societal needs and achieving social change by employing the basic tenants of entrepreneurship to solve these problems. Its usually a lifelong process that focuses on getting to the root of the issues by looking at the systems that are in place and understanding that the problems may or may not be eliminated.

Learn more about real life social enterprises below:

Sources: Schwab Foundation | Conscious Capitalism | Stanford Social Innovation Review

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

5 thoughts on “What Is Social Entrepreneurship by Calvin Eaton

  1. I did not know that historical detail of 540WMain! Kudos to you, Calvin, for adapting to the market and making that adjustment to your business model so it would be well received. I have also been asking myself the big question about how to incorporate a new venture, a particularly sticky question in the education space that we both inhabit. Surprised you didn’t mention Benefit (B-) Corporations in this piece, another vocab term from the social entrepreneurship world that I’m surprised hasn’t become better understood and embraced by the general public. I wonder if you ever considered pursuing that classification when you were launching 540? Thanks for all you do to further awareness and conversations in the community!


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