6 characteristics of brilliant social entrepreneurs

What makes a great social entrepreneur?

Scrap that… what makes a brilliant social entrepreneur?

If you’ve got an idea that you believe could change the world, or have the makings of a business venture that has strong social or environmental underpinnings, you’ll no doubt ask the above question – regularly.

At Inspire2Enterprise, we’re lucky enough to talk to brilliant social entrepreneurs every day, and we think they all share six common traits:

1. They aren’t fuelled by a desire to build a fortune

Social entrepreneurs need a strong ethical impetus if they’re to create businesses that put society before profit.

Sure, we’ll be the first to tell anyone looking to start a social enterprise that they need to treat it like a business (because that’s what it is!), but if you’re fuelled purely by profit and the desire to build a fortune from your venture, the cracks will soon start to show.

The motivation to create a brilliant social enterprise must come from a clear sense of what’s right and what’s wrong with the world.

2. They’re not afraid to work in obscurity

Few social enterprises arrive on the scene without having endured countless years of being created quietly in the background.

Starting any kind of business involves harbouring and developing ideas in relative obscurity, and if that sounds like a chore you’re unwilling to entertain, the social space probably isn’t for you.

Building a social enterprise is often a lonely endeavour, but boy are the future rewards worth it!

3. They wilfully go against the grain

If you want to open a shoe shop, you can call on the past successes of others to emulate their operation, but social enterprises rarely benefit from such an instruction manual.

The most successful social entrepreneurs cross boundaries and wilfully go against the grain in order to create their organisations. They’ll work on ideas that mix different experiences, ethics, backgrounds and working cultures in ways few traditional businesses would dare approach.

4. They understand the true meaning of ‘entrepreneur’

The word ‘entrepreneur’ is – as you’d expect – French, and refers to the ability an individual might possess to take things into their own hands.

This is why so many of the people who start social enterprises do so once they have exited a corporate landscape where they tired of working for others and the cramped nature of established structures.

A brilliant social entrepreneur wants to break free – to forge their own path and not be bound by old processes or pre-defined ways of doing business.

5. They don’t care who gets the credit – as long as someone does

A key differentiator between social entrepreneurs and those operating in more traditional business environments is the willingness of the former to share credit.

If a part-time employee comes up with an idea that transforms your social enterprise, will you nudge them into the spotlight and ensure the history books tell the correct story, or ‘do a Steve Jobs’ and claim credit yourself?

6. They spot early warning signs – and make changes

History tells us that eight out of ten businesses fail, and you can bet your bottom dollar (if you’ll excuse the pun) that it’s often due to a poorly thought-out – or non-existent – business plan.

If you make one of the countless business plan mistakes that are often made by social enterprise founders, you’ll need the ability to spot the early warning signs of any negative side effects before they come a real problem.

Very few social enterprises achieve success without stumbling along the way, therefore the ability to make changes when problems emerge is vital – even if that means throwing away the original business plan and starting again.

Wrapping up

What’s your favourite social aspect of social entrepreneurialism above? More importantly, have we missed any?

Get involved by commenting below!

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