Probably the second trendiest thing to call yourself besides an entrepreneur is a social entrepreneur.
Many schools, competitions, programs, etc. are popping up around the nation promoting social entrepreneurship as a discipline and espousing the beauty of its ideals to the “do-good” arm of today’s Millennial population.
The only problem is that there is no such thing as social entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship Is the Discipline of Creating Value in Society
Whether that value stems from connecting the world and increasing communication via Snapchat or creating the cure for polio, these pioneers of innovation are all entrepreneurs. The dangerous stigma behind social entrepreneurship leads to “regular entrepreneurship” being viewed as not as effective, beneficial or valuable.
When the Nepal Earthquake first struck and countries, companies, non-profits, etc. rushed to gather money and resources for the victims, it was Facebook that raised more money than any other organization. The Facebook community pooled $15 million for the relief, while the second best was the U.S. government at $10 million.
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Some may claim the donation branch of Facebook is a social venture even if the larger platform is not. I believe we can all acknowledge the reason Facebook raised this money stems from them being an enormous platform and other outlets such as GoFundMe, the Red Cross, and any other avenue of raising money, was not even remotely as successful because they do not have the users.
Even more so, consider the inventor of the storage battery and non-spill battery cap, Walter Lawrence Gill. These two inventions may mean nothing to most people and likely do not cross many people’s minds, but without them, planes would be unable to make long distance flights or bank turns.
Where would society be at today without planes that can fly effective distances and turn? Think of how little humanitarian resources would be available for rural areas of the world, how unconnected people would be, how drastically different business would be.
I can acknowledge that some businesses may do slightly more influential things than say Yo or Yik Yak, but at the end of the day value creation is value creation and whether that value lies in consumer tech, medical devices, hardware, etc. does not matter because a rising tide raises all boats.
The "Do-Good" Landscape
Furthermore, many do not understand just how much social entrepreneurship skews the “do-good” landscape. The top social venture in the market today is Project Red, the brainchild of Bono and others. Project Red is responsible for the (red) products, such as the “inspi(red)” red iPod.
This business model circles around creating a huge brand power behind (red) that makes companies want to pay a fee plus give a commission of sales in exchange for using the (red) brand to make them seem more socially responsible. All proceeds of Project Red go towards the fight to end HIV/AIDS.
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Overall, it seems like Project Red is doing some great things for the world right? Wrong. (Red) products have seen more than $100 million spent on advertising while only raising about $18 million for the cause. Project Red has also gotten criticism for the amount of donations they spend on management expenses that will never actually go toward helping HIV/AIDS patients.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in this venture however is that it has made it trendy to support HIV/AIDS via purchasing (red) products and so the amount of money going toward HIV/AIDS in Africa has skyrocketed and other diseases and problems in the continent have been left without support, despite having massively larger negative impacts on the societies of Africa.
Project Red understands the natural self-interest of society, but unfortunately tapping into this interest degrades the purity the brand aims to sell. While I respect those who champion honorable causes, the only way to advance society is for all of us to do what we can do best.
Focus on Strength and Aim for Value
For those of you who want to make a difference, focus on your strengths and aim for value adds. Peter Thiel's book "Zero to One" talks about the importance of taking the world from zero to one instead of just from N to N+1. It is scenarios such as these that will drive value and make the world better off. This is, of course, easier said than done. There can only be one first of anything, so being able to have the forethought to see that opportunity requires skill, knowledge, and a healthy dose of luck.
Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, the founder of the DuPont conglomerate, famously said, "Owning something requires opportunity and means." It is not good enough to see the world's best opportunity for value-addition, you also need to be able to execute. This is where your skills come into play. Not only are you more apt to see opportunities where you are trained, but realistically it is the only time you will be able to thrive. Founding a company requires you to answer the question, "Why am I distinctly meant to found this venture?" If you don't have an answer you should revisit the drawing books.
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Once you know where your skills are superior and you spend time looking at the flaws in the world, you need to just get out there and start something. Too often "social entrepreneurs" worry about where value can be most added or where they are most needed, but some action will always trump excess thought.
Rather than focusing on doing something "socially responsible" you are best for this society focusing on your skills in a business venture doing something unique.