We are in a profound moment of polarity.
We see it in the news, where the polar ends of political, religious, cultural, gender-conscious, racially-aware spectra voice their opinions with fury, feist, and without apology.
For those of us who see ourselves as problemsolvers driven by impact, we may feel overwhelmed and even momentarily paralyzed by the din of feuding opinions, the viscidity in reaching common ground and commonly-held beliefs. Where delivering and distributing social impact has often been associated within the purview of government and agencies, a new reality leaves these channels for impact less available and less accessible for those purposes.
However, those championing inclusion, innovation, and gamechanging innovation still have an important lever to pull. Business. Specifically, impact-driven business.
Social entrepreneurship has never been more important than it is right now.
Divisiveness around the role of government to support citizens, by default, seems to favor business, scaling, and job creation as measures of success.
Fortunately, changemakers have also increasingly been tinkering with business as a medium for change over the past decade or longer. This exploration has resulted in the passage of new legal structures including benefit corporations and social purpose corporations in over 32 states and jurisdictions that solidify the legal precedence of for-impact + for-profit companies. It has also led to creative and adaptive business models that seek to prioritize impact and account for impact. And, the foray into business practices is paving new ways of measuring and reporting impact; so that our accounting of social impact is not abstract and anecdotal, but a measurable means of evaluating success. This field of championing social impact and business is maturing as new kinds of capital-raising–including impact investing, community notes, and crowdfunding–are letting investors choose where their money grows and rests.
We realize that far from immobile, we are finding new muscles and new ways to move, connect, fly. Far from overwhelmed, we are building the scaffolding for a future that hasn’t been fully envisioned and architected.
Can social entrepreneurship be a common language?
It bares question whether, in this moment of polarity, we can turn to business as a common language.
Fortunately, social entrepreneurs not only speak the language but have become experienced in bridging gaps of knowledge and resources toward cultivating communities of conscious consumers, investors, and achieving new milestones in success.
We are seeing that beyond language, social entrepreneurship is a mindset. One that individuals across aisles, across industries, and across business and enterprise can adopt to create change and inclusion in their own ecosystems.
To be an effective way to express and empower impact, we need broader and deeper engagement in social entrepreneurship.
I have spent the better part of six years, since founding Innov8social, on the path of exploring, sharing, and building ways to make social entrepreneurship more actionable accessible. Spanning blog posts, podcast episodes, a book, live events, and now, consulting–I feel my personal life’s work entwined with this work of inviting, educating, and helping launch social entrepreneurs.
Here are steps I have found helpful in feeling more comfortable to create and grow as social entrepreneurs:
- Learn what social entrepreneurship is
- Define the impact you seek to make
- Understand the legal options for formation and fundraising
- Explore (and invent) business models
- Measure social impact, and the effects of the absence of social impact
- Tell a compelling story and share it personally and professionally
- Lead with empathy, clarity, and with impact-aligned team members
- Raise capital that fits your goals and your impact
- Always remember that we are problem-solvers first. Be ready to problemsolve thoughtfully and often
- Build your networks big and small–that serve to challenge you, empower you, and give you a forum of inviting others into the space and empowering their success
Social entrepreneurship will not reach its potential to create impact and shift the norms of business as a spectator sport. As millennials, Gen Z, and “Zoomers” look to start businesses and engage in meaningful work–I have little doubt that we will discover new ways of delivering impact through the medium of business.
Neetal Parekh is the founder of Innov8social, author 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship, host of The Impact Podcast, and convener of Impactathon. She consults with social entrepreneurs, companies, and institutions to help them reach their impact potential. On Twitter and social media: @innov8social