Years ago, entrepreneurs measured their performance based on profits generated in their business. They spent their time writing business plans, scheduling meetings, and working tirelessly to grow their business; however, all of that seems to have changed with today’s wave of entrepreneurs. We now have a new faction of entrepreneurs who view the world differently. They don’t just create products for customers, rather, they create to impact the world. More than ever, today’s entrepreneurs, nonprofits organizations and incubators have set their sights on solving local, state, national and world issues – most importantly, issues that directly impact the communities in which they live.
For example, we shared the stage and rooms with other influential Black millennial leaders, entrepreneurs, techies, speakers and business coaches at the 2019 UNCF/Koch Scholars Summit in Washington, DC. While there, 400 undergraduate UNCF scholars from across the country collaborated to develop innovative solutions using viable business models that would, in four years, enable African-American undergraduate students to graduate from college debt free. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 77% of African-American students borrow to pay for college at higher rates than any other demographic. What’s even more alarming is that 75% of students at HBCUs rely on Pell Grants and nearly 13% rely on PLUS Loans to meet their college expenses. Student loan debt at HBCUs is both a snapshot and a symptom of an even larger financial and economic inequality problem in the United States. For social entrepreneurs, this paves the way for the origination of solutions-based ideas that tackle problems greatly affecting their communities.
The concept of social entrepreneurship has always been deeply ingrained in the African-American community. It involves creating value for others and making a positive impact on the world. Social entrepreneurs provide significant innovative solutions to problems that are prevalent in our communities which are typically neglected by various agencies at-large.
However, there are organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that travel to HBCUs to create opportunities, through programs like Innovation Forward, in efforts to resolve issues that may adversely impact minority communities. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the AAAS recently provided two days of interactive workshops for students, faculty, administrators, inventors, entrepreneurs, startup founders and K-12 students and teachers at North Carolina A&T State University. Attendees were educated on the importance of utilizing innovation, technology transfer and entrepreneurship to create inventions and to develop business ideas that will solve today’s and tomorrow’s issues. While at this conference, we had the opportunity to speak to groups about innovative ways to brand yourself and your organization in a digital age using technology. We also provided valuable resource tools that are available to entrepreneurs both online and at the local, state, and federal levels. Opportunities such as these provide invaluable training and enrichment for today’s and tomorrow’s leaders, decision-makers and entrepreneurs.
Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurship can be defined as “an approach by start-up companies and entrepreneurs, in which they develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.”
The eCommerce platform, Shopify.com, provides a more unambiguous definition of social entrepreneurship. There, social entrepreneurship is defined as the “most basic level of doing business for a social cause.”
Social entrepreneurship involves identifying pressing societal issues and developing progressive solutions to those problems. Social entrepreneurs mobilize communities while tackling issues in the health care, education and sanitation sectors, to name a few. They also present their ideas in a way that highlights relatable issues and encourages suitable resolutions for these issues.
Below are excellent examples of social entrepreneurs whose impact has been and continues to be quite instrumental to the advancement of the African-American community.
Madam C. J. Walker: She became a millionaire selling hair and beauty products for African-American women. However, for Madam C. J. Walker, it wasn’t just about the money. It was about women empowerment. In her own words, Ms. Walker declared, “I am not satisfied with making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.”
Annie Turnbo Malone: She pioneered a hair care business for African-American women, which made her a millionaire. In addition to empowering black women, including Madam C. J. Walker, Malone became an activist in national black politics. She also contributed to several black colleges including Howard University and Tuskegee Institute.
Robert F. Smith: He is a billionaire tech investor and philanthropist. He is most known for his generous pledge to wipe out the student loan debts of graduating students of Morehouse College as well as the student loan debt taken on by their parents, totaling over $40 million. This gesture will give 400 students a new start in life. Before Mr. Smith’s pleasant surprise, he previously contributed $1.5 million towards scholarships and development at Morehouse College, including funds for the creation of park that will serve as a new outdoor study area for the students.
Brenda Palms Barber: To combat the likelihood of recidivism, Brenda Barber founded “Sweet Beginnings.” Through this program, Barber exudes her commitment to giving second chances to ex-offenders by employing them in her beauty and skin-care product business. The former inmates perform jobs including manufacturing, website management, sales and customer service.
HBCU Wall Street: HBCU Wall Street is a classic example of modern-day social entrepreneurship. We are on a mission to help students and the community as a whole increase their cash flow and net worth to acquire assets. We began as an Instagram page, highlighting the successes and accomplishments of people who graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Since its launch, the group has become an award-winning tech company, hosting webinars, podcasts, campus tours, and workshops to empower the youth in African-American communities.
Code Noir Institute, Inc: Code Noir Institute, Inc., teaches coding and entrepreneurship to underprivileged youth ages 11 – 18. This organization was established in Greenville, North Carolina, where more than 32% of the population lives below the poverty line. This number far exceeds the 13.4% national average of those living in poverty. Women, African-Americans and Hispanics are the most common groups living below the poverty line in Greenville, North Carolina. The goal of Code Noir Institute is to produce a pipeline of the next generation of diverse, highly-skilled, STEM-trained professionals and leaders by providing mentoring and career and business opportunities while simultaneously equipping its students with valuable skills they can use to become entrepreneurs or for advancement in the workforce.
Benefits of being a Social Entrepreneurs
There are various benefits of being a social entrepreneur which include:
- Implementing Societal Change
This is one of the most essential and rewarding benefits of being a social entrepreneur. As an originator, you will develop innovations that will significantly impact society. Nothing is more fulfilling than realizing your contributions will have an everlasting effect, similar to those of Madam C. J. Walker and Annie Malone.
- Increase Your Income Stream While Helping the World
When you help others, you will mature as an entrepreneur. The focus should always be doing good in society; the money will eventually come. Moreover, linking your business to a cause will ignite a flow of goodwill, resulting in an increase in your numbers. When you adopt a social entrepreneurship approach to your business, you will profit from your ideas and learn how to manage both people and resources.
- Network and Become an Industry Figure
Ultimately, everyone is interested in making the world a better place. Helping each other grow has always been commonplace in the African-American community. By engaging in community-driven projects, you will meet other entrepreneurs who are working towards the same goal. The individuals you meet may become your business partners, close friends, or simply people with whom you share common interests. Aside from networking, you will also have an opportunity to build your brand and become an industry figure. The more solutions you help create as a social entrepreneur, the more you and your business are noticed.
- Social Entrepreneurs Can Work with Automation
In this digital age, social entrepreneurs use a range of services. These tools are essential for collaboration, collecting and spreading information, and for market strategy. Social entrepreneurs can automate various processes in their projects to have more time to focus on more critical issues. For instance, you can automate repetitive processes like information collection, responding to inquiries, and other manual aspects of your operations. The goal of every social entrepreneur should be to automate so you can delegate. This will greatly improve your business.
The following two principles are rooted in social entrepreneurship in this digital age:
- Acquire not only digital knowledge but also ensure that such knowledge is used to solve societal problems; and
- Use digital technologies to strengthen the networks of service providers and the consumers.
The real power of social entrepreneurs is their ability to identify specific human issues and use their skills to discover a solution. Social entrepreneurs have the freedom to explore and create change in society. They are always on the lookout for ingenious ways to address societal concerns. Often, our lack of ideas is the result of misdirected focus, specifically concentrating on profit-making as opposed to problem-solving. When you are faced with real-life problems, your creativity will kick in, and you will start seeing things from a solution-based standpoint. The African-American community needs more social entrepreneurs who are passionate about helping others.
To do so, you don’t need to be a business mogul & visionary like Madam C. J. Walker or to own billions like Robert F. Smith. Start small by looking for ways to impact your immediate community just like our efforts with HBCU Wall Street, whose impact is an inspiring example of how working for a better community brings out the best in us. For us, the name of the game is purpose over profits. Sure, the money will come, but you must help others first.