The Social Entrepreneur aka The Social Enterprise

The nonprofit sector is an incredible force given all the good it does every year. Quite literally, it is a source with which to be reckoned, as it makes up about 10% of the US work force. Those who work at nonprofit organizations take the task of improving the social and cultural fabric of our world very seriously.

Made up of roughly 1.5 million organizations in the US, nonprofits address issues ranging from local animal rescue to helping underserved autistic populations learn skills that will make them employable them as they age out of programs and into adulthood. At the heart of every legitimate organization is a mission that has an impact.

The traditional sources for funding of nonprofits has always been charitable—be it private funding, individual donations, grants, or otherwise. Straightforward donations and fundraisers have been the most popular sources of financial development. But, that is changing with the times.

Enter the Social Entrepreneur.

Just as technology has changed consumer behavior over the years, philanthropy, too, is changing. And technology (especially social media) has democratized philanthropy. Now, anyone with a smartphone can easily support a friend’s attempt to raise funds for their charity of choice with just a couple of key strokes.

The lines that used to clearly delineate philanthropy and for-profit business are blurring. More and more entrepreneurs are driven by a desire, and purpose, to create a positive impact in their community and on the world. And, research shows consumers are increasingly driven to buy products and services from providers who give back. According to a 2015 study by Cone Communications, 90% of US consumers would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality.

A social enterprise is a business created to further a social purpose in a financially sustainable way. In other words, it’s the impact that directs the business.

Here is a look at five which showcase ingenuity and leverage it for good.

  1. Fashion Project

Anna Palmer, co-founder of Fashion Project, was in a Harvard tax class when she had learned that more than $13 billion worth of clothing and accessories are donated per year. She and her co-founder, Christine Rizk, had each worked for two nonprofits before this—and found that particular nugget of information a source of inspiration. They formed Fashion Project as a way to monetize the donated clothing and direct funding for good.

Tips for nonprofits from Palmer:

  • Be innovative about revenue streams.
  • Look beyond the traditional, straight donation.
  • Make your mission socially shareable.

Want to hear more? Check out this podcast and the interview with Anna Palmer.

  1. TerraCycle

In a society where conspicuous consumption is the norm, the unintended result is an abundance of waste. While recycling and upcycling has become much more popular in recent years, there is still a long way to go—but the problem was much greater 15 years ago.

That’s when Tom Szaky, then a student at Princeton University, decided to find a solution. He started TerraCycle in 2001 and has been on a mission towards eliminating waste, or as they have put it “Eliminating the Idea of Waste” ever since. Today, the company has grown into the global leader in collecting and repurposing hard-to-recycle waste: operating in over 20 countries, engaging over 60 million people, and recycling billions of pieces of waste through various innovative platforms.

  1. You Give Goods

Watching the devastation of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that left Port Au Prince in tatters moved many to send donations to help the victims rebuild their lives. Like so many others, Paul and Lisa Tomasi immediately contributed supplies and money towards the rebuilding process. But they soon realized the inefficiencies of the in-kind donation system: getting goods to the nonprofits that were both needed and useable proved to be more difficult than they expected.

Paul and Lisa Tomasi become focused on creating a better, more efficient way for people to give during emergencies. As a result, they created You Give Goods, an online supply drive solution created in partnership with nonprofits, ensuring the goods received through drives arrive new, sorted and in a manner guaranteed to be usable.

  1. Kiva

Remember the days when only a bank could provide a new business with a loan? Or when you had to be a descendent of a wealthy, prominent family to be a benefactor? Kiva has changed the rules.

Kiva is a non-profit organization that connects people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Since Kiva was founded in 2005, they have generated:

  • 1,394,170 Kiva lenders
  • $827,214,450 in loans
  • 98.38% repayment rate
  1. TOMS Shoes

Perhaps one of the most well known social enterprises is TOMS Shoes. Back in 2006, founder Blake Mycoskie was moved to help shoe the children he saw during his travels to Argentina. He also coined the cause-marketing phrase and business model, “One for One,” where a company will match one purchase by providing one service/item to a needy recipient.

TOMS has given away over 50 million pairs of shoes to children in need, since 2006. In addition to providing shoes, the company grown and creates local jobs by producing shoes in countries where they are given away.


Amy DeVita is a publisher, entrepreneur, mother, wife, social media enthusiast and fan and avid supporter of the nonprofit/ for-impact sector. She has written for Top Nonprofits and Third Sector Today; she has been quoted on pieces about social media and social impact on The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She was named to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in NJ Monthly and she is a member of Social Media for Nonprofits’ Leadership Council. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, yoga, hiking, traveling, and playing Scrabble. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and two dogs. In 1984 she earned the “Most Improved Average” honor on her bowling league.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.