Social entrepreneurship can be defined as the use of business principles to solve social problems. Successful social entrepreneurs who founded non-profit or for-profit ventures are innovators in health, education, manufacturing, finance and other sectors. Their focus is on a triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
While not a new phenomenon (it could be argued that Florence Nightingale and Maria Montessori were early social entrepreneurs), the term is appearing with increasing frequency in business magazines, and business school curricula. The Internet reveals numerous references to “10 best” or “10 most powerful” social entrepreneurs. Last year in its first-ever “List of the Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs,” Forbes included nine women. More recently, Business Week identified its list of promising social entrepreneurs. As increasing numbers of these lists appear, more interesting and powerful women are drawing attention. So who are these new female business tycoons with a heart, and how are they affecting our world?
Jane Chen co-founded Embrace, a company that has developed an innovative, low-cost infant warmer for vulnerable babies in developing countries. More than 20 million low-birth-weight and premature babies are born every year around the world, and more than 4 million die within their first month of life. Embrace developed an infant warmer that costs a fraction of the price of existing solutions and functions without a continuous supply of electricity.
Jacqueline Novogratz is a pioneer of “market-based” philanthropy and the founder of the Acumen Fund. In ForbesWoman (8/22/2012) she defines her dream as finding “individuals who take financial resources and convert them into changing the world in the most positive ways.” Her company is one of an increasing number that identifies and supports promising social entrepreneurs. Acumen investments include 70 companies in South Asia and Africa, all focused on delivering affordable health care, water, housing and energy to the poor.
Roshaneh Zafar is a pioneer in microfinance services in Pakistan. Through the KASHF Foundation, which she founded and directs, $202 million in loans have been dispersed providing more than a million people with access to capital. These loans have empowered and promoted the economic self-reliance of poor women and their families in Pakistan.
Liz Forkin Bohannon saw extreme poverty while living in Uganda. She started a company that makes sandals. Sseko Designs is now Uganda’s largest footwear exporter. Sseko teaches participants how to sew, and after a nine-month stint at the factory, they have earned enough money to enable them to attend their first year of school.
Melissa Rich is the founder and president of InterSchola, which sells surplus goods for school districts and public agencies on EBAY. InterSchola sells materials that previously had to be hauled away as trash. The company gets approvals from officials, determines what will sell, manages web sales, and ensures buyers receive the goods they purchase. Schools and agencies have received more than $15 million over the past eight years.
In another example of creative recycling, Tracy Claussen began focusing on re-purposing materials that were left for waste after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. A designer by trade, Claussen founded REpurposingNOLA to turn all kinds of fabric, from coffee sacks to old banners into apparel and accessories. She designs the products and contracts with local New Orleans workers to sew them.
These female social entrepreneurs, and many others, are challenging the notion that profit and philanthropy are mutually exclusive endeavors.
Women’s Watch is a cooperative writing effort of the local chapters of the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women.