Impact Voices | November 23, 2022

Five insights into the future of social entrepreneurship

Brigit Helms

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Guest Author

Brigit Helms

In some ways, a quarter of a century is a long time to be at the forefront of social entrepreneurship. But in other ways, it’s just a brief flash of time, given the global issues that social enterprises seek to address.

As Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship celebrates 25 years of accelerating and accompanying social enterprises worldwide, we asked agents of impact to look ahead to the next 25 years and share their thoughts on the future of this sector.

Thirty senior leaders across the social entrepreneurship ecosystem—including impact investors, social entrepreneurs, impact journalists, mentors, and others working directly with social enterprises—responded thoughtfully to two questions:

  • How should social entrepreneurship evolve over the next 25 years?
  • What needs to change and who will drive the transformation?

Here are five insights gleaned from this survey.

“Social entrepreneurship” should simply be “entrepreneurship”

I dream of a day when we don’t need to qualify the word “entrepreneurship” with the word “social”—when all entrepreneurs will understand that their job is to apply innovation and business principles to solve intractable social and environmental problems around the world.

“Social entrepreneurship should evolve to become the norm.”

— Elizabeth MacBride, CEO/Founder, Times of Entrepreneurship

“All entrepreneurship should ultimately create positive externalities—both financial and social. I would therefore like to see the concept of ‘social entrepreneurship’ become more mainstream, with founders intentionally creating value-adding companies across all sectors.”

— Ladé Araba, Executive Director, AlphaMundi Foundation

“What I’d like to see is for social entrepreneurship to move from niche to the norm—for every entrepreneur to build social and/or environmental goals or elements into their business and for that to become the standard practice.”

— Anne Field, Journalist, Forbes

“The sector will evolve such that ‘social’ won’t be needed as a modifier in front.”

— Geoff Davis, CEO, Sorenson Impact Center

Social entrepreneurship needs a better definition

Social entrepreneurship as a sector or asset class is still in its infancy. The ecosystem built to support it is nascent, fragmented, and still a bit chaotic. And it’s not very entrepreneur-friendly. First and foremost, we all need to be aligned on what we’re talking about.

“Do we need a bigger tent—not diluting the definition but tapping into other market-driven movements or solutions?”

— Camilla Nestor, CEO, MCE Social Capital

“The focus needs to change to a systems view of creating well-being-generating systems, and [to] the people who can effectively work together in creating and operating them.”

— John Lovitt, Founder, Getting to Value

“What needs to change is the idea that social justice, inclusion, and sustainability are optional.”

— Yasmina Zaidman, Chief Development & Partnerships Officer, Acumen

New funding approaches are needed

Just as we seek to drop the “social” distinction from “entrepreneurship,” let’s work to move away from specialized “impact” investing, toward investments that balance financial performance with positive social and environmental impact. And let’s ensure that we connect entrepreneurs to the right “flavor” of capital that meets their needs at each stage of their development.

“Social entrepreneurship should be funded from the bottom up, meaning small enterprises in disadvantaged communities should get funding equally to the big enterprises.”

— Joseph Nkonga, Director, Centre de Formations Etudes et Recherches pour le Développement

“Economic development in low-income countries requires access to local capital to spur business activities.”

— Sayuri Sharper, Principal, KSF Impact

“All of us need to drive [social entrepreneurship evolution]. Impact investors have a special role in allocating capital.”

— Tony Stayner, Managing Director, Excelsior Impact Fund

“It’s very difficult for social enterprises to compete in a fair market, especially if trying to integrate into corporate value chains. If corporates, foundations, and/or governments can’t subsidize these costs, then more innovation is needed in regulation, taxation, incentives, etc. to create more market demand for products and services that represent the true costs of delivery.”

— Mark Horoszowski, CEO at MovingWorlds

Good business practices, financial outcomes, and impact measurements all matter

To sustain successful enterprises, we need to support entrepreneurs in developing strong business skills. Currently, entrepreneurs find it incredibly confusing and costly to navigate the ecosystem of entities that can help, and only those entrepreneurs with existing networks get access—further marginalizing local leaders, women, and others who are typically left behind.

“Social enterprises need to continue the trend of becoming financially self-sufficient, through an ongoing profitable business that has social impact. Role models of profitable, impactful organizations can attract a new wave of investors to support the efforts.”

— Dick Halduck, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship mentor

“To be successful, future social entrepreneurs need deep knowledge of design thinking, data-driven culture, and financial knowledge.”

— Unmesh Sheth, Founder and CEO, Sopact

“The benefits of social enterprises becoming better at business could be massive and timely.”

— Rob Shelton, Miller Center Fellow

“Social enterprises and their investors need a more effective way to measure their impact, so that both consumers and investors can separate the companies that are truly making a difference from those that merely want to latch onto the sustainability brand.”

— James Militzer, Managing Editor, NextBillion

“[Social entrepreneurship] needs to focus on innovations that make a measurable impact on unsolved problems.”

— Eric Carlson, Investor and Miller Center Co-Founder & Mentor

Transformation is everyone’s responsibility

We must work toward a more mature ecosystem that’s increasingly collaborative and connected, with the entrepreneur at the center. This will require all of us dedicated to supporting this ecosystem—from incubators to accelerators, universities, philanthropists, and investors—to work together to ensure a seamless continuum of support for enterprises, accompanying them on their growth journey.

“We have to move urgently toward radical collaboration between public and private, big and small, and international and local organizations, recognizing that we need each other to resist and repair global injustices, address the climate crisis, and build better systems and a more equitable and regenerative world that works for 100% of life.”

Amit Saraogi, CEO Oorja Development Solutions Limited

Only by working together can we achieve a world where all entrepreneurship serves the greater good and all investment seeks to generate a positive impact.

As Miller Center embarks on our next 25 years, we are more committed than ever to bringing this cohesive, effective, and ultimately successful vision for entrepreneurship into reality.

Brigit Helms is executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship