Edited by Dr KK Tse

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Simply put, social entrepreneurship is entrepreneurial spirit targeted at addressing major social issues.

social enterprise is a business with a social mission; it aspires to becoming self-sustaining by generating income and profits, but its profits are primarily reinvested in the enterprise to further fulfill its social mission.

social entrepreneur is an individual who is passionate about tackling a social issue and is capable of creating new solutions and a self-sustaining organization to tackle that issue.

We believe that one of the major weaknesses of many social enterprises in Hong Kong at this moment is the lack of entrepreneurship.

We believe that what Hong Kong most urgently needs right now is more social entrepreneurs.

That is why we focus on promoting and supporting social entrepreneurship.

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Some perspectives on Social Entrepreneurs

“Social entrepreneurs are real visionaries – people who want to change the world. That doesn’t mean they necessarily develop complex, global solutions to large-scale issues; often, social entrepreneurs simply take a problem in their own community and make a commitment to tackle it. This may lead to something bigger, or it may not; what makes a true social entrepreneur is that they have the will to make a difference, the vision to know how to go about it and the determination to make that vision happen.

Distinctive characteristics commonly found among social entrepreneurs:

  • vision
  • determination
  • passion
  • self-motivation and self belief
  • flexibility
  • resourcefulness

Source: UnLtd, the UK nation-wide organization promoting social entrepreneurship

“Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change. Social entrepreneurs are often seen to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish and teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

Source: Ashoka Foundation, the premier organization promoting social entrepreneurship worldwide

“What business entrepreneurs are to the economy, social entrepreneurs are to social change. They are driven, creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up – and change the world for the better.

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 community they’re serving.

Social entrepreneurs are people with new ideas to address major problems, who are relentless in their pursuit of their visions, who simply will not take ‘no’ for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they possibly can.”

Source: David Bornstein, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford: OUP, 2004)
Chinese translations:
天下文化: 志工企業家: 提昇人類社會的力量 (台灣 2006),
新星出版社: 如何改變世界: 社會企業家與新思想的威力 (北京 2006)

“A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole business, 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.

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.”

Source: The New Heroes, a four-hour documentary on social entrepreneurs worldwide hosted by Robert Redford, produced and aired by PBS in the US. 

“Entrepreneurs have always been the drivers of innovation and progress. In the business world, they act as engines of growth, harnessing opportunity and innovation to fuel economic advancement. Social entrepreneurs act similarly, tapping inspiration and creativity, courage and fortitude, to seize opportunities that challenge and forever change established, but fundamentally inequitable systems. They seek value in the form of transformational change that will benefit disadvantaged communities and ultimately society at large.”

Source: Skoll Foundation, created in 1999 by eBay’s first president, Jeff Skoll, to invest in , connect and celebrate social entrepreneurs around the world.

“A Social Entrepreneur is a 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.

Social entrepreneurs share 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, and pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t dare.
  • a zeal to measure and monitor their impact. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, are their key tools, guiding continuous feedback and improvement.
  • a healthy impatience. Social entrepreneurs don’t do well in bureaucracies. They cannot sit back and wait for change to happen – they are the change drivers.”

Source: The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship which has created a world-wide platform of outstanding social entrepreneurs.

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