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It depends upon who you ask and when. The definition keeps changing over time and broadening to include an ever-widening group of enterprises that have a positive social impact. What they all have in common is that they either directly promote social causes or support social causes as an ancillary to their main business.
Examples of social entrepreneurship ideas include business models that exclusively use their profits to promote a social cause or models that share some of their profits to support social causes. An example of the latter might be, “Buy a pair of our shoes and we will donate a pair to someone less fortunate.”
As we increasingly face the challenging effects of climate change and overpopulation, another example of a social entrepreneur that is becoming more common is businesses that directly mitigate those challenges. Whether it’s turning waste plastics into power, saving water, or upcycling food products, these businesses wear the veil of social entrepreneurship because even though they are making a profit, they are also making a difference.
What is a social entrepreneur?
It’s simply a founder with a higher purpose than just making money. It’s a founder who designs or incorporate social goals into his/her business plan. Founders with a passion for a social cause can, as we did when we started Barefoot Wines, find a way to promote their business to the benefit of society.
You will often hear, “Follow your passion!” as a call to action when you decide on a business plan. We followed our opportunity, passionately! We have found that opportunities tend to present themselves much more often than the perfect passion-to-business fit. At least that was the case with us.
Our passion was land conservation and human rights, but the business opportunity we were presented with was in the wine industry. So, we seized upon our business opportunity and then found a way to incorporate our passion into our business pursuit.
Getting the Word Out on Our Products Through Worthy Cause Marketing
Early on we were faced with the need to get the word out on our products. The big stores pointed out, and correctly so, that “Nobody ever heard of a product called Barefoot Wine!” In fact, they actually told us, “If you don’t spend a fortune on expensive advertising, we won’t carry it!” Now, what were we going to do? We couldn’t afford a commercial advertising program.
Just about then, we received a call from a neighborhood group who wanted to build a kids-after-school park. They wanted a big dollar donation for swings, slides, and sandboxes. As much as we wanted to help, we had every dime tied up in production. So we offered our wine itself as a donation and said, “Maybe you can pour it at your fundraiser. It might loosen some folks up to write bigger checks. Or maybe you can auction it off and use the money to buy some slides and swings.”
They took the wine and we never heard from them again. But within a month, our products started to move in the stores near their neighborhood! We thought, “May we have discovered a way to get the word out without expensive advertising!” So, we tried it in another neighborhood, one that was keen on cleaning up a creek. Again, sales took off!
When we finally realized that we could give members of any already organized worthy cause near the stores that sold our products a social reason to support us, we called it “Worth Cause Marketing.” It worked so well that even when we could afford commercial advertising, we chose to exclusively use this form of “advertising” throughout the country. Using only Worth Cause Marketing, Barefoot grew to one of the fastest growing wine labels in the country.
Were we social entrepreneurs?
We certainly helped hundreds of non-profit worthy causes raise funds and get their goals known in the marketplace, a forum to which they had no previous access. We were finally able to use our passion to succeed within the business opportunity that presented itself.
So, if you want to know how to become a social entrepreneur, you don’t have to give up on your passion to take advantage of a business opportunity. You just have to find a way to employ your passion through your business and help the causes you hold dear. Give your customers a social reason to buy your products!