5 ways to spot a social entrepreneur

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What makes someone a social entrepreneur? How do you know if someone could tip sectors, change systems, and address problems effectively — someone who could end up really changing the world?

How is a social entrepreneur different than any other entrepreneur? To put it concretely, social entrepreneurs are people with innovative solutions for society’s most pressing social problems. Social entrepreneurs see new opportunities in existing challenges and provide solutions that open new markets. Just like business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs are proactive, tenacious, innovative, and possess a long-term vision.

But how can you know who will change the social landscape for the better?

Fortunately, this is not a new question. The following five criteria were devised in 1980 by Ashoka, the world’s largest platform for social entrepreneurs and are still some of the most accurate and consistent predictors of social entrepreneurial success.

1. Does the person have a new idea?

A new idea can be exceedingly tricky to find, especially in a world were there are established paradigms and methodologies. There are certainly plenty of good reasons to support the established ways of doing things, but if you are going to fill in the gaps — reach individuals and groups that aren’t being benefitted by the traditional mechanisms — then you’ll have to be more innovative. Chances are if the person doesn’t have a new idea, not much will change.

2. Is the person creative?

Good ideas are great. But adaptability and visionary thinking are necessities. A social entrepreneur starts with a vision: an eye on the bigger picture and the desired overall result, but problems will inevitably arise, particularly when you decide to step off the beaten path. If a person isn’t creative, it can be hard to see opportunities amidst the challenges.

3. Does the person possess entrepreneurial quality?

To put it bluntly, entrepreneurial quality is little more than unwavering obsession. A social entrepreneur is fully absorbed by their cause; both its vision and the “how-tos” of implementation. They are resilient, enterprising, and tenacious, even if it takes decades to see the goal realized. Again, is the person willing to undertake the necessary risk to make the idea happen?

4. Will the initiative make a big and systemic social impact?

No matter how many fish you give a man, he will always ask for more, unless, of course, you teach him how to fish. But teaching one man is not enough. In the words of Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka, true social entrepreneurs “will not rest until they have revolutionized the entire fishing industry.” For the candidate in question: does their initiative have the potential to scale up and have significant broad social impact?

5. Is the person of high ethical caliber?

Obsession, drive, creativity, and passion are necessary characteristics of a social entrepreneur. All of these traits, however, will come to naught if an entrepreneur cannot be trusted. A large part of a social idea’s success derives from its creator’s credibility. There can be no compromising on this point: do you trust this person without hesitation?

If the candidate stacks up on each of these five criteria, then that is good news for them, for us, for you, and for the world. The next step is to let the world know. Ashoka, the world’s largest network supporting social entrepreneurs, is ready to help these dreamers take their ideas to the next level.

Over half of Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs have succeeded in changing national policy in their sector within five years of receiving the Ashoka fellowship. For your potential candidate, this could be their big break. All they need now is your nomination.

Do you know a social entrepreneur in the Arab World? Submit your nominations to Ashoka here or email venture-assist@ashoka-arab.org with any further questions. 

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