Social entrepreneurship and the next generation of giving


Daniel Lemin – PremalShah, president of social entrepreneur web site Kiva.org

By Melissa Steffan, Published: November 9

It is no longer considered gauche to give to someone in the developing world with the expectation that the money be returned. Nearly everywhere you look “social entrepreneurship” is being used in lieu of “philanthropy” and “charitable giving.”

Kiva.org President Premal Shah’s work as a social entrepreneur began during his time as a principal product manager at the online payment company PayPal. Shah developed the idea of online giving through microfinance and left PayPal in October 2005 to start Kiva.org.

Kiva allows online users to provide micro-loans of as little as $25 to small business owners in 60 countries. Kiva has since facilitated more than $250 million in loans, and it continues to grow. One of Kiva’s greatest accomplishments, according to Shah, is that the organization has set the bar for similar internet microfinance operations.

“Social entrepreneurs want their idea to spread,” Shah said in a phone interview. “There’s over 20 Web sites that look a lot like Kiva, and we’re trying to help them out — to help them get traction as well.”

Today, the term “social entrepreneurship” lies at the heart of a growing movement of socially motivated thinkers and businesspeople. These individuals, said investment firm founder Bill Drayton, are more than market professionals. Rather, they invest in social change just as one invests in capital.

“Their goal is to get the system to evolve in the fundamental pattern-change ways that will help the children, the parents, the society – the whole thing,” Drayton said in a phone interview. “They see a problem, and they can’t imagine stopping and being happy in life until they’ve changed the pattern in the field.”

Examples of social entrepreneurship are not confined to either the business or the non-profit sectors. Instead, social ventures, including well-known organizations likeGrameen Bank in India or Teach for America, often blur traditional organizational lines. And the idea that for-profit companies can generate social good is not new, according to Phil Buchanan, president of the nonprofit Center for Effective Philanthropy.

“For decades, foundations and major individual philanthropists have brought more than just financial resources to bear,” said Buchanan. “So much that gets packaged as innovation is just a surfacing of what’s been going on for a long time. It’s not new, but it’s important. It plays out in very different ways.”

Who is a social entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur is an individual who brings energy, business rigor, intelligence and resourcefulness to a problem, upsetting the status quo, says Kiva.org’s Shah. Social entrepreneurs see a societal issue and apply the same principles.

“They won’t stop until everyone sees what they see,” said Shah. “There’s a greater movement of people being their best selves and doing what they can do to effectuate the change they want to see.”

The term resulted from the marriage of two words that, 30 years ago, were in the process of migrating away from one another. And, in the intervening period, a number of terms have been used in an attempt to describe this activity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s