Social Entrepreneurship

Where Sustainable Leading Meets Sustainable Living
  • Joan MarquesEmail author
Living reference work entry


Social entrepreneurs cleverly combine business techniques and private sector approaches in order to develop solutions to social, cultural, or environmental problems, and do so in a variety of organizations. The chapter will set the stage by first presenting some commonalities between conventional entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs, such as their internal locus of control, their zest for innovation, their ambition, and their perseverance; and subsequently discussing the most obvious differences such as their foundational structures (wealth accumulation vs. making a difference) and their performance measurement (return on investments vs. return to society). Three different social entrepreneurial business models will briefly be discussed: (1) The Leveraged Nonprofit, a business model leveraging resources in order to respond to social needs; (2) The Hybrid Nonprofit, a structure that can take on a variety of forms; and (3) The Social Business Venture, designed to create change through social means (Elkington and Hartigan 2008). The chapter will then present two exemplary social entrepreneurs: Muhamad Yunus (Grameen Bank) and Elon Musk (Tesla Electric cars, SolarCity, SpaceX, and Hyperloop). Both of these social entrepreneurs decided to address societal needs and solve social problems by changing the status quo, presenting and spreading a solution, and persuading their societies to move in a different direction. In its final section, the chapter will encourage readers to consider social entrepreneurial efforts toward a better world, by becoming society’s change agents, and either righting a wrong, creating something right, or improving on something good.


Social entrepreneurs Internal locus of control Nonprofit Social problems Sustainability Social responsibility Culture Environment 


The term “entrepreneur” has been in use for at least two centuries now. Originating from French, the term implies qualities of leadership, initiative, and innovation . While the term “entrepreneur” in its early interpretation mainly pertained to new venture design, it currently finds broader use in innovative behavior across various realms. Yet, when we say that someone is an entrepreneur, most people still think of an individual who creates and runs one or more businesses, and taking the necessary financial risks that accompany this process. Conventional entrepreneurs start their ventures for many reasons, but most of the time these reasons are profit-driven, whether pertaining to the production of goods or offerings of services.

The term “social entrepreneur” seems to be about five decades old. According to El Ebrashi (2013), it was first mentioned in 1972 in Joseph Banks’ book The Sociology of Social Movements. Social entrepreneurship practices developed in the 1980s with the establishment of Ashoka, the first organization to support social entrepreneurs in the world (Mastrangelo et al. 2017). Yet, it wasn’t until we made our way into the twenty-first century, and human awareness increased, with concepts such as environmental abuse, global footprint, sustainability , and corporate social responsibility entering the business vocabulary, that the social entrepreneur got a prominent foothold in the world of business.

Multiple definitions of this concept were formulated, such as Martin and Osberg’s (2007) description that social entrepreneurs are those that identify “a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own” (Martin and Osberg 2007, p. 35). Seelos and Mair (2007) describe social entrepreneurship as a phenomenon that encapsulates the individuals, the organizations, and the initiatives engaged in entrepreneurial activities with a social goal. In another resource, these same authors define social entrepreneurship as “entrepreneurship that creates new models for the provision of products and services that cater directly to the social needs underlying sustainable development goals such as the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals)” (p. 244).

Zahra et al. (2009) explain social entrepreneurship as a cluster of activities and processes aimed at “discovering, defining, and exploiting opportunities in order to enhance social wealth by creating new ventures or managing existing organizations in an innovative manner” (p. 519). Mastrangelo et al. (2017) describe social entrepreneurship as “an outstanding phenomenon that links entrepreneurship, social change, and economic development” (p. 437).

Based on a thorough investigation, Dart (2004) found that the legitimacy of social entrepreneurship is based on morality rather than pragmatism. Dart’s research underscored that social entrepreneurship has emerged into a genuine and acceptable organizational form because it made solid sense to the core business mindset of using market-based tactics as the critical path toward successfully addressing social and ecological problems. Dey and Lehner (2017) add that social entrepreneurship is also in many ways “a response to the ‘global crisis of value’ instigated by the ascendancy of free-market liberalism as the dominant political ideology” (p. 753). They rightfully aver that social entrepreneurship, as a critical embodiment of progressive social change, has become a prominent topic in Management and Organization Theory, especially when Business Ethics are considered. While there are, of course, healthy skeptics, who underscore that the concept of social entrepreneurship can sometimes be abused by individuals and corporations to profile themselves as something they are not, the overall picture is a positive and hopeful one. In general, it can be stated that social entrepreneurship finds its origins in numerous developments and movements, which allots it a broad and solid base. Social entrepreneurship is a strong contributor in adding meaning to work and life. Indeed, “social entrepreneurs are increasingly important in filling unmet social needs. Yet, there is little understanding of their motivations and opportunity recognition in the domain of social entrepreneurship” (Yitshaki and Kropp 2016, p. 546).

(Social entrepreneurs cleverly combine business techniques and private sector approaches in order to develop solutions to social, cultural, or environmental problems , and do so in a variety of organizations.)

Common Factors

According to, an entrepreneur, in the collective sense of the word, is someone who exercises initiative by organizing a venture to take benefit of an opportunity and, as the decision maker, decides what, how, and how much of a good or service will be produced. The source further explains that entrepreneurs have to be willing to take risks, and will have to monitor and control their venture’s activities. An entrepreneur can be a sole proprietor, a partner, or a person owning the majority of shares in an incorporated venture. All of the above remains the same, whether an entrepreneur chooses to be commercially or socially driven. also states that economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883–1950) clarified that entrepreneurs are not necessarily motivated by profit but regard it as a standard for measuring achievement or success. This statement brings to light the fact that many entrepreneurs, regardless of their type of business, engage in their practice for fulfillment, satisfaction, accomplishment, and securing a livelihood.

Strauss (2015) describes entrepreneurs as having a greater capacity for pain and discomfort than most. “They can stay up later, work longer hours, stay more focused and, somehow, are able to set so much aside in deference to their dreams and visions” (par. 1).

In addition to the above common factors, it should also be understood that both, commercial and social entrepreneurs, have to possess a high internal locus of control . Testé (2017) explains, “The notion of locus of control (LOC) refers to an individual’s perception of factors that account for the occurrence of outcomes. Specifically, internally oriented individuals believe outcomes are primarily related to internal factors (e.g., their own actions), whereas externally oriented individuals believe outcomes are influenced mostly by external factors (e.g., chance)” (p. 81). This implies that a person with an internal locus of control will harbor a high level of responsibility and confidence, which drives him or her toward leadership and the poise to start something new, where others don’t even entertain that though, or if they do, refrain from following up due to fear for failure.

Another common factor between both types of entrepreneurs is their zest for innovation . Jiarong and Shouming (2016) found that entrepreneurs’ degree of self-efficacy impacts their ability to be innovative. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments. Defined that way, it becomes obvious that self-efficacy is closely aligned with one’s internal locus of control. This positive relationship between self-efficacy and innovation performance highlights the interdependency of the qualities for the entrepreneur’s degree of success and perseverance . Jiarong and Shouming (2016) found that a higher level of self-efficacy is related to improved innovation performance.

Entrepreneurs on either side of the spectrum have to harbor a certain degree of ambition. “Ambition is the fuel that sets our internal engine into gear, especially when it comes to professional performance” (Marques 2016, p. 65). “Ambitious people see opportunities where others see challenges, and they continuously try to expand their skills and connections in order to convert these opportunities into reality” (Marques 2016, p. 65). Ambitious people, particularly the entrepreneurial kind, seek suitable partners, are innovative, keep their ego under control, sharpen their focus, and, therefore, outperform many others (Marques 2016). It may be prudent to underscore here that ambition is a quality that needs to be monitored, because it can also lead to intolerance, micromanagement, increased dissatisfaction, and damaged trust or reputation, when escalated (Marques 2016).

Perseverance is yet another common factor within entrepreneurs, whether commercially or socially oriented. Perseverance enables people to go an extra mile when others give up, and this quality oftentimes turns out to be an asset in accomplishing a target. Perseverance brings a gamut of other skills along, such as patience, timing, communication, creativity, and emotional intelligence, in order to accommodate others, and convince them of the usefulness of pursuing the project at hand. Perseverance, like ambition, is a quality that also needs to be handled with mindfulness. A leader who exerts too much perseverance can be considered overly demanding, unreasonable, and unpleasant to work with, thus alienating good potential collaborators. Yet, when applied to a proper degree, perseverance is a great quality for all types of entrepreneurs.

Tobak (2016) describes entrepreneurship as a game of attrition: of having the determination, discipline, and cash to persevere. While he doesn’t disregard vision, passion, savvy, and guts, he considers perseverance the critical glue that binds all other qualities together. He briefly reviews some entrepreneurs who became billionaires, such as Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the Google founders, who pitched their idea to numerous potential investors in Silicon Valley before finding one who wrote them a $100,000 check to start. And even then, it took years before the search engine really started to flourish. He also discusses Jeff Bezos , who founded in 1994, and displayed unremitting perseverance in the years thereafter to prove its advantage and effectiveness. Tobak (2016) finally considers Steve Jobs, who also felt that perseverance was the critical quality that separated successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones. Perseverance means holding it all together, even when employees lose hope, and the media becomes mean.

The Differences

Bacq et al. (2016) affirm that commercial entrepreneurs are often perceived as driven by selfish reasons, even though they are praised for their economic- and performance-based contributions to society. Social entrepreneurs are perceived distinctive from their commercial counterparts based on their “motivations, intentions and relative importance of actively doing good for society (as opposed to being motivated by private gains)” (p. 703). Bacq et al. (2016) observe a positive interaction in dynamics between the two groups: because social entrepreneurs are so often applauded for their efforts in creating social wealth and bringing important social change in challenging times, commercial regular entrepreneurs become more aware of the need to also engage in socially responsible and morally sound behavior.

Mastrangelo et al. (2017) found that social entrepreneurs have the following traits in common: communication, teamwork, delegation, active listening, and attitude. Their study also found that particularly communication, active listening, and attitude can have a strong influence on employees’ commitment toward involvement.

Yitshaki and Kropp (2016) found from a study among 30 social entrepreneurs in Israel , that there are different motivations that lead to social awareness and opportunity recognition among social entrepreneurs: a majority in their study (60%) were motivated by “pull factors,” which included prosocial behaviors based on past or current life events, while a smaller number (40%) were motivated by push factors, including job dissatisfaction and a search for meaning. In some more detail, the “pull factors” varied from life influences in past or present that impacted the perspectives of these social entrepreneurs and compelled them to engage in their movement. Some of their social entrepreneurial endeavors came straight from coping with problems, either in their own youth or through their children, that they felt needed larger attention in society. The issues varied from personal hardship, sadness, or embarrassment, leading to the decision to spare others the same experience, or at least, reduce their suffering. Sometimes a “pull factor” was also manifested through an example set by previous generations, and at other times, it was imbued with an ideological motivation that served as fuel for their initiative. There were also social entrepreneurs who ascribed their “pull” to a spiritual guidance, which arrived through certain eye-opening experiences (Yitshaki and Kropp 2016).

As for the “push factors,” the reasons varied from nonpersonal, yet disturbing confrontations with injustice, to the quest for more meaning in work and life after holding an unsatisfying job (Yitshaki and Kropp 2016).

Even though there is a longheld belief that entrepreneurs positively contribute to society (e.g., through job creation) (Schumpeter 1934; Van Praag and Versloot 2007), what is assumed to distinguish social entrepreneurs from their commercial counterparts is their motivations, intentions, and relative importance of actively doing good for society (as opposed to being motivated by private gains) (Dacin et al. 2010; Zahra et al. 2009).

In a study that aimed to question the moral label generally ascribed to social entrepreneurs, Bacq et al. (2016) pinpoint the difference between social entrepreneurs and commercial entrepreneurs through the following two propositions:
  1. 1.

    Intention of blended value creation is not what distinguishes social entrepreneurs from commercial entrepreneurs: social entrepreneurs differentiate themselves by the primacy they attach to social value creation and their intention to pursue collective interests over and above economic value creation (p. 713).

  2. 2.

    Social entrepreneurs display a less favorable entrepreneurial profile compared to commercial entrepreneurs, as (a) they are less self-confident in their capabilities to start a business; (b) they are less likely to regard entrepreneurship as a desirable career choice; and (c) they devote less time and effort to their organizational social mission (p. 714).


Social Entrepreneurial Business Models

Social entrepreneurship, as may have become clear by now, is not a single concept. There are many ways in which social entrepreneurship can be exerted. Not only do the reasons for undertaking actions aiming at positive social change vary, but the operational models utilized are also divergent. In her article “It’s About People, Not Profits,” Hartigan (2006) distinguishes and explains three different social entrepreneurial business models, to be briefly reviewed below:
  1. 1.

    The Leveraged Nonprofit , a business model leveraging resources in order to respond to social needs. Social entrepreneurs engage in this model when they aim to adopt an innovation and set up a nonprofit for that purpose. The nonprofit is an appealing model to gather support and commitment from various constituents, such as organizations – private and public, as well as individuals. While such a nonprofit organization is dependent upon donations and grants, it is fairly stable, thus sustainable, due to the support it gets from multiple societal layers. Some examples Hartigan (2006) mentioned for this model are, “Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America, Jeroo Billimoria’s Childhelpline International (India and beyond), and Javier Gonzalez Quintero’s abcdespañol (Colombia and Latin America)” (p. 44).

  2. 2.

    The Hybrid Nonprofit , which is a structure that can take on a variety of forms. In this case, the entrepreneur creates a nonprofit that comprises a certain level of cost recovery, which is done through the sale of goods and services to a variety of associated entities, both public and private, along with target population groups. In order to keep up the transformational activities and continue to serve its oftentimes needy or dependent clients, the entrepreneur solicits other sources of resources from the public and/or donor organizations. Two examples Hartigan (2006) listed for this model are “Martin Fisher and Nick Moon’s Kick Start (Kenya) and Rodrigo Baggio’s Committee for the Democratization of Information (Brazil)” (p. 45).

  3. 3.

    The Social Business Venture, which is designed to create change through social means (Elkington and Hartigan 2008). In her 2006 article, Hartigan referred to this model as the “Hybrid for-Profits or Social Businesses,” whereby she explained that, in this model, entrepreneurs create businesses aimed at driving transformational change. Even though there are profits generated, the main aim is not financial return maximization for shareholders but rather the expansion of the social venture in order to ensure a more effective reach of people in need. Wealth accumulation is therefore not a priority in this model, and revenues beyond costs are therefore reallocated to the business for increased support to the focus group. Entrepreneurs engaging in this model look for investors with an interest in combining financial and social returns. Hartigan presents the following examples of such social businesses, Issac Durojaiye’s DMT Toilets (Nigeria), Nic Frances’ Easy Being Green (Australia), Ibrahim Abouleish’s SEKEM (Egypt), and Javier Hurtado’s Irupana (Bolivia) are exemplars of such social businesses (p. 45).

Roper and Cheney (2005) also share their views on the business models of social entrepreneurship, and represent them as follows:
  1. 1.

    Private social entrepreneurship, in which the social entrepreneur enjoys the advantage of taking ownership in planning, profit and innovation of the venture. Private social enterprises have greater freedom to adopt popular contemporary business trends.

  2. 2.

    Social entrepreneurship in the not-for-profit sector, where ventures, often sprung from social-movement organizations, social advocacy groups, or community initiatives, compete for the scare funding resources from philanthropic entities. Even though their structures and focus points may differ widely, most of these ventures aim to allocate their funds in a socially laudable way such as regenerating or expanding economic activity, advancing the public good, ensuring community ownership, and solidifying democratic structures.

  3. 3.

    Public-sector social entrepreneurship, which pertains to economic applications of business and market models to the public sphere, such as water, electricity, and waste management. Yet, public social entrepreneurship may bring substantial political and administrative constraints on the latter. Public organizations have a more difficult time adapting to changing circumstances and innovating owing to constitutional, executive, legislative considerations, as well as to sheer habit. In other words, the private sector allows for greater freedom and experimentation, as seen from this standpoint (Roper and Cheney 2005).


Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability

The term sustainability holds at least two meanings for social entrepreneurial ventures. The first pertains to the literal interpretation of maintaining a sustainable business model: will the venture be able to continue performing? This is not always easy or clear, because in social enterprises, the financial influx oftentimes arrives from different sources (e.g., donors, benefactors, and philanthropists) than the outflow (mainly to challenged entities). This means that social entrepreneurs are incessantly and creatively searching for ways to sustain their operations, preferably without perpetually depending on illustrious, yet capricious donors (Dudnik 2010).

The other interpretation of sustainability pertains to the resilience of the social endeavor and its effects. It is very disheartening if hard-invested efforts get lost as soon as the social enterprise moves to the next project. Ensuring sustainability of actions is never guaranteed, but in order to enhance the likelihood of it to happen, social ventures will have to build in models that secure continuation (Dudnik 2010).

In an interesting article about sustainable social enterprises, Osberg and Martin (2015) describe the work of social ventures that address challenges too narrow in scope to trigger governmental involvement, yet important enough to make a critical difference. They point out that such ventures maintain a balance between attaining social goals, while at the same time meeting their financial pressures. They discuss social business entities such as GoodWeave, an Asia-based carpet company that ensures no child labor involved in their products, yet holds its own amid less scrupulous competitors, through a keen focus on financially sustainable operations. Treading a golden middle path between business and government assistance in their mission, some of these social entrepreneurial ventures engage in major environmental projects such as deforestation in the Amazon, requiring awareness campaigns amongst multiple stakeholders, safe landmine detonation activities in Asia, to ensure a healthier environment for upcoming generations, and drug inventory tracking systems to make up for the shortage of doctors and nurses in sub-Saharan Africa.

Social entrepreneurs focus on solving big problems in a simple, yet sustainable way, such as Daniel Snell’s “Arrival Education,” which is built on a reciprocity model: it takes young people from challenging backgrounds and gets them to help develop programs for businesses, who in turn develop them. Founded in 2003, Arrival Education was first a part-time endeavor, until Snell dared to give up his corporate job in 2006 to fully devote himself to the cause. In developing his social concept, Snell discovered a unique interplay between problematic youth and business corporations, thus delivering valuable service in sustainable efforts, and making a living that way. Both corporations and schools love this organization because it reforms constituents in a positive way: corporate leaders utilize the training skills of Arrival Education’s team, and schools do the same, benefiting by keeping challenged youngsters in school. Snell warns that doing the sustainable and socially responsible thing is not necessarily a big money maker. He underscores the common aspects of perseverance , less than average income, a shift of social environment, critical listening (and scrutinizing), and knowledge of the business that drives the social endeavor (Snell 2012).

Another interesting take on entrepreneurship, and most definitely what we have come to know as social entrepreneurship in recent decades, is the old view from Joseph Shumpeter (1934), who pointed out that entrepreneurial activities are actually creative destruction, because “sustainable entrepreneurs destroy existing conventional production methods, products, market structures and consumption patterns, and replace them with superior environmental and social products and services” (Schaltegger and Wagner 2011, p. 222).

Social Entrepreneurs in Action

In order to obtain a decent understanding of social entrepreneurship, we will review two exemplary, yet very different social entrepreneurs in the next section: Muhamad Yunus (founder, Grameen Bank), and Elon Musk (founder and co-founder of Tesla Electric cars, SolarCity, SpaceX, and the Hyperloop ). Both of these social entrepreneurs are known for addressing societal needs and solving social problems by changing the status quo, presenting and spreading a solution, and persuading their societies to move in a different direction.

Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is thus far the only business person who received the Nobel Peace Prize. This happened, along with his brainchild Grameen Bank , in 2006. This prestigious award was granted to Yunus because of his initiatives and decades of banking for the poor, and developing a microcredit system that was later adopted by many organizations in many nations. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Yunus pointed out that poverty is a threat to peace. He shared the grim reality that 94% of the world’s income goes to 40% of the global population, while 60% of the people have to share only 6% of income among each other. Poverty is the absence of all human rights. If we want to build stable peace, we have to create means for the poor to rise above their deprived state (The World’s Top 20 Public Intellectuals 2008).

The Nobel Foundation, in a brief biographical sketch, describes Yunus as “Banker to the Poor” (Muhammad Yunus Biographical 2006). Yunus was born in 1940 in Chittagong, a seaport city in Bangladesh. As a student at Dhaka University, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US. He did so at Vanderbilt University in Tenessee, where he received his PhD in Economics in 1969. Upon graduating, he lectured at Middle Tennessee State University, but decided to return to Bangladesh, when the country became independent in 1971. He became affiliated to Chittagong University, where he taught Economics, and became head of the economics department. On his daily walks through the streets in the village outside the campus, he was shocked to see poverty all around. He saw hard-working people, who simply lacked the chance to get ahead in life, regardless of their actions. From his interactions with them, Yunus learned that these people were trapped in the clutches of money-lenders, who determined how much they wanted to pay for the products the poor people produced. This way, their poverty was sealed, while the money lenders had a guaranteed and abundant income flow. Deeply contemplating on his impressions, Yunus decided to organize a research project with his economics students, in order to find out how much money the poor people in the nearby village owed to the money lenders. The amount was a little more than $27. 00. Yunus then visited the local bank, where he received confirmation to what was already known: poor people could not get loans, because the general perception existed (and still exists) that poor people are not creditworthy, and will not be able to pay back their loans. Yunus decided to loan the poor people the money out of his own pocket, and found that, contrary to what the banks assumed, he received 100% of the loan amount back. Unfortunately, the local banks were unwilling to surrender their viewpoint and give the poor people a chance, regardless of the data Yunus presented. This disturbing fact led to an early, but prophetic statement from Yunus: “The question is not ‘Are people credit-worthy’, but rather, ‘Are banks people-worthy?’” (Black 2012).

Fascinated by the debilitating state of being stuck in an obsolete paradigm, and appalled by the vicious cycle of perpetuating poverty due to a system that disfavored the poor, Yunus established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983, particularly fueled by the conviction that credit is a fundamental human right. The recipients of the first loans were 42 women, all basket-weavers from the village of Jobra. While the loans were minimal, the impact was tremendous, leading to a major culture change, whereby even beggars were enabled to receive loans (Hall 2013). Yunus’ aim was to assist poor people in escaping poverty by granting them loans on terms that were appropriate to them and by teaching them a few sound financial principles so they could help themselves (Hall 2013). In 1983, Grameen Bank received authorization to perform as an independent bank, and Yunus could start realizing his dream of reducing, and possibly 1 day even eradicating poverty in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank offered collateral-free, income-generating housing, student, and microenterprise loans to poor families (Vlock 2009). At first, Grameen bank would loan money with a heavy emphasis on men (98%), with only 2% of female lenders. Yet, Yunus quickly found out that women were more serious in utilizing the money toward actual progress for their families, and were prompter in paying back their loans. This led the bank to prioritize loans to women, leading to a current base of 98% female lenders (Esty 2011). Woman who wanted a loan needed to have the support of a team of others, who would become coresponsible for repaying the money. “Over the years, [Yunus’] Grameen Bank, now operating in more than 100 countries, has loaned nearly $7 billion in small sums to more than 7 million borrowers-97% of them women. Ninety-eight percent of the loans have been repaid” (The World’s Top 20 Public Intellectuals 2008, p. 55). Through his Grameen Bank project, Yunus has helped elevate 50 million Bangladesh people out of poverty. Since the start of Grameen Bank, the concept has been replicated in more than 100 countries (Hall 2013), and Yunus is seen as a global hero, who has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates and other tokens of appreciation worldwide.

Over the last decade, however, Dr. Yunus has been under siege by political leaders in his home country, due to his once expressed interest in starting his own political party in order to eradicate corruption. Even though he never started the party, the leader who came to power after Yunus’ statement, Sheikh Hasina, had been fighting his every step along the way. Hasina started a vivid campaign against Yunus, and even had him ousted as the President of Grameen Bank in 2010, under claims that he would be past retirement age, thus too old to hold such a position. Unless Hasina changes her mind, chances are that Grameen will become a government bank, which places the micro-lending institution in a dire place regarding its service to the poor. Many charitable organizations and political leaders worldwide condemned the Bangladeshi government’s actions, but the attacks have continued, and tax probes have been launched against Yunus and his seven social-business firms, accusing them of evading millions of dollars in taxes (Hall 2013). The group of opponents to the Nobel Peace Prize winner in their country has grown to include Islamic extremists, since Dr. Yunus made a public statement in support of gay people’s rights.

While the politically fueled turmoil continues in Bangladesh, Yunus remains active on the world scene, attending numerous conferences globally and conducting presentations. He may seem unaffected by the political and religious hate campaigns in his country at the personal level, but is concerned about the possibility of Grameen Bank falling in the hands of the government, because he feels that it has always been and should remain to be the bank of the poor people.

Microcredit , as any other phenomenon, has its advocates and adversaries. There have been critics, who labeled microcredit “a death trap” or a “damaging intervention.” Other sources question the rules at Grameen specifically, where loans are never forgiven but only restructured (e.g., Adams and Raymond 2008). Nonetheless, the numbers of microloan applicants have steadily grown – and continue to grow – worldwide, with Bangladesh being one of the nations with the highest percentage of micro-borrowers. The fact that this concept entices many people all over the world can be concluded from the immense interest that remains for Yunus’ speeches wherever he goes. Yunus claims that repayment of microcredit has consistently leveled around 97% in Bangladesh, and in New York, where there are now 14,000 women using microloans, the repayment in over 99% (Hall 2013). He adds that microcredit has to be monitored in such a way that borrowers don’t fall too far into debt, as this can otherwise become a financial burden rather than a relief. Yet, he claims that conventional banking has far more flaws, as it is merely structured on making the affluent richer, and shunning small individuals.

In his advocacy for the social business model, Dr. Muhammad Yunus underscores that all humans are entrepreneurs by our sheer history (Cosic 2017). He makes a point in favor of the social model over the commercial way of doing business. To effectively spread the message, he founded “Yunus Social Business” in 2011, an entity that operates globally by establishing social business centers at universities around the world. Acknowledging that poverty is a globally manifested phenomenon, Yunus now targets upcoming generations with his concept, informing youngsters about social and commercial business, and leaving them the choice to decide where they will go (Cosic 2017). Having successfully changed the lending culture in Bangladesh since the 1970s, and encouraging women to become entrepreneurs, he now implements his vision on a larger scale. Yunus defies the notion that entrepreneurship is just something a handful of people can do. He looks at the history and points out that all our ancestors were entrepreneurs, and that our current system with a small group that owns almost all wealth in the world is relatively new in human history (Cosic 2017). Today there are about 160 million people, mostly women, who use microcredit, demonstrating their entrepreneurial skills on a daily basis. Witnessing the contemporary global trends of outsourcing, robotics that eliminates human labor, and accelerated technological development, Yunus maintains that entrepreneurship is the solution to the problems of our times. Those who select social business as their mode of operation will become the trendsetters. France has been rather proactive in this regard, as there have been quite some Franch companies that joined the social entrepreneurial movement early on, such as Danone, which produces dairy products, and Veolia, which bottles clean water. Both companies have joined forces with Grameen Bank in order to provide healthy products at a reasonable price to the poor in Bangladesh. Corporations from other nations have also picked up on the social business trend. For instance, McCain, an American food company, works with Grameen to assist farmers in Colombia. Yunus is particularly proud of the fact that the company leaders and shareholders are increasingly valuing these kinds of collaboration, even though they yield less financial returns. On the other hand, however, there is a major feel-good component in doing something tangible for children in poor countries, and this emotion seems to be valid and appreciated amongst major corporations, such as the ones just mentioned (Cosic 2017).

Indeed, Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ social entrepreneurial efforts are praiseworthy. Even though he remains a human being, making his fair share of mistakes as he goes, he has accomplished an immense service to the eighty million people in Bangladesh (about half the population) that uses Grameen services, whether microfinance, savings, insurances, eye hospitals, mobile phones, solar energy, high nutrition yoghurt from Danone, or one of the many other facilities aimed at enabling people to have a chance at a decent quality of life and economic growth (Black 2012).

In any of the projects and collaborations Yunus established in Bangladesh, he demonstrated insight, willpower, initiative, and a desire to break through irrational and unfair boundaries. He utilized every opportunity he had, reached out to international businesses to expand on the services he could give to the people in Bangladesh, and created a web of innovation that knows no match. Some of his innovations were original, others adopted from places where he had seen them working. And while some people may contest the term “innovation” in those cases, there is no denial that Yunus has first-mover qualities: he delivered improvements that were not yet implemented in his country. Yet, the aim never changed: helping poor people get a better life. Yunus has stated on many forums that his aim is to place poverty in museums (Black 2012), so that future people will only know what it looked like when they visit such a place with historic artifacts. A strong element in implementing the changes he could bring to Bangladesh was his capacity to establish relationships with people from all walks of life: heads of state, business leaders, entrepreneurs, opinion formers, grassroots innovators, and citizen organizations (Black 2012). His immense network has been highly instrumental in keeping him out of jail in his country, when the corrupted regime of Hasina came into power. Yet, as well-connected and awarded as Yunus is, as untouched is he by all the honors. He spends just as much time with students when he presents his lectures, as he does with presidents and CEOs. He has not become an elitist.

Moses (2014) shares the following six lessons for young social entrepreneurs from Muhammad Yunus:
  1. 1.

    He focused on an unserved or underserved market: as stated earlier in this chapter, he addressed the need of the micropreneurs in the village outside the university where he was teaching, and tapped into an untapped opportunity, which was, providing loans to the poor in order to help them stabilize their lives.

  2. 2.

    He dreamed big: While the Grameen project started at a small level, he realized its potential and dared to push it forward in multiple directions that ultimately far exceeded microlending. Starting with a few hundred, his project affected many millions over the past decades.

  3. 3.

    He collaborated with others: Understanding that growth cannot be perpetuated without assistance from others, Yunus sought out multiple partners, such as financial donors, but also global corporations to help steer Grameen to its current levels.

  4. 4.

    He diversified his business construct: he did not fall into the myopic practice of holding on to only his core activities, but awaited the right moment to expand his trajectory into areas that would enrich the experience of those who sought out the services of his institution. He branched out into trusts, funds, software, cybernet, knitwear, mobile phone, and more.

  5. 5.

    He helped others: with his Yunus Social Business (USB), he now helps young social entrepreneurs to start their venues, through networking and idea development.

  6. 6.

    Be prepared for criticism: in spite of the obvious success of his ventures, the concept of microfinancing has been and remains to be criticized by various scholars and entities.


In his own words, Dr. Muhammad Yunus describes social business as cause-driven. While the money invested can be recouped, the intention is not to take dividend beyond that point. Even though there is no objection to profits, the main purpose is to achieve social aims. Also, the profit should stay with the company. The company covers the expenses and makes profit while working toward accomplishing the social goals (Yunus 2007). Yunus alerts us that social business is relatively new in the business realm, and that it should not be seen as the end or a competition to commercial business, but rather an enrichment to the available options. He actually underscores that it is possible to run conventional and social business at the same time. The key is the aim to solve a clear and present problem in society. Yunus asserts further that social entrepreneurship brings a whole new perspective: it forces you to think creatively, reach out for support, learn new paths and strategies, and see things the way you did not consider them before. Most importantly, continues Yunus, engaging in social entrepreneurship makes you a happier person, because you feel good about what you are doing, and it provides you a way to change the world for the better (Yunus 2007).

Elon Musk

Elon Musk grew up in South Africa and comes from an adventurous family, with entrepreneurial skills instilled from both his parents: his father was a serial entrepreneur, and his mother a fashion model (Sun 2016). He started university at the tender age of 17 and ended up with two Bachelor’s degrees: one in Physics from the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences, and one in economics from the same university’s high profile Wharton School of Business. He dropped out shortly after starting a PhD program at Stanford University in applied physics and materials science, as he was more interested in pursuing his entrepreneurial goals. He has been married twice, once to a novelist, whom he met in college, but whom he soon considered insufficient as a wife, telling her that he would have fired her if she was his employee. He has five children with his first wife (twins and triplets). His second marriage was to a British actress, whom he married twice. Yet, the tumultuous marriage still ended in divorce in 2016 (Sun 2016).

The suave billionaire was not always a popular person. Growing up, he was bullied, because he was younger and smaller than most other children in the class, and in addition, also introverted and quiet. At one point, he was so severely beaten by other children, that he had to be hospitalized, according to his father. Fortunately, he was removed from the school after the incident (Sun 2016).

The combination of intelligence and entrepreneurship was converted into multiple millions when he sold his first company, Zip2, to Compaq. The year was 1999, and Musk was only 27 years old at the time. From there on, he founded multiple other companies, such as, which later became PayPal, and was sold to eBay in 2002 for the nice little sum of $1.5 billion. That same year, he started SpaceX, an endeavor that almost became his downfall, because of three failed rocket launches, an activity that gulps up millions like no other. With relatively few resources left, the fourth rocket was launched in 2008. This time, the launch was successful, and Musk was back in business: he received several multibillion-dollar contracts from NASA to assist in the resupply of the International Space Station (ISS), and restore astronaut travel to and from the space station (Sun 2016).

Musk started Tesla Motors and launched his first electric car in 2008. Therein he also experienced some setbacks, as there were multiple recalls needed to improve the product. In fact, Bloomberg reported in 2013 that Tesla was leaning near bankruptcy. Fortunately, the product improved, and so did sales. As of 2016, the third generation of Tesla cars was scheduled for hitting the market in 2017, with about 325,0000 orders in presales (Sun 2016).

As of today, Elon Musk has been labeled a business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor, and he may not be the most apparent embodiment of a social entrepreneur, but when we review the most well-known companies he is involved in, there is one overwhelming common factor: they are all geared toward improving a social problem about which he feels major concern:
  • Tesla electric cars address the depletion of fossil fuels and air pollution.

  • Solar City delivers inexpensive, clean, pure energy from the sun, rather than the expensive electricity extracted from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

  • The Hyperloop has practically a similar goal: rapid mass transportation on renewable energy to avoid the use of burning fossils, thus reducing air pollution.

  • Space X , to actively seek a new habitat for a gradually overpopulating human cohort outside of planet Earth.

Admitted, these projects have not made him any poorer: Musk’s net worth in 2017 has been estimated at about 16.6 billion dollars. Nothing to sneeze about, especially when we consider that he is only in his forties. Musk is known for his valiant work ethic, consisting of long hours and little vacation time. He is also known as a resilient individual, with the laudable ability to bounce back in times of setbacks. All these factors contribute to his success as a versatile entrepreneur. Yet, what may be the most important element of his success is exactly that: versatility. Musk does not limit himself to only one activity. Within his focus of reinventing unsustainable trends in society, he branches out into multiple areas, which could classify him as an expert-generalist: one who studies in multiple fields, understands the deeper principles that connect those fields, and applies the principles to their core specialty (Simmons and Chew 2016). Simmons and Chew (2016) warn that an expert-generalist is not the same as a “jack of all trades, master of none; because an expert-generalist knows how to combine his or her expertise with newly encountered fields of interest, in order to come up with unique innovations and strategies. Elon Musk has always ensured to keep himself well-informed: he is an eager learner and has been an avid reader since he was a teenager, reading an average of two books a day, which easily adds up to about 60 per month! (Simmons and Chew 2016). It is this learning habit of Musk that enabled him to bring together acquired knowledge from different fields, and then diffuse it into multiple areas again. In his case, he brought together the foundational principles from artificial intelligence, technology, physics, and engineering into a variety of services, such as aerospace (SpaceX), automotive (Tesla), and trains (Hyperloop ) (Simmons & Chew). More recently, he also created OpenAI, a nonprofit artificial intelligence (AI) research company, Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup company, to integrate the human brain with artificial intelligence, and The Boring Company, a company that will specialize in tunnels.

While there may not be many people who consider Elon Musk a social entrepreneur today, Schrang (2015) makes a strong point to underscore that we should start looking at Musk as such: an unconventional social entrepreneur, who sells an expensive product, Tesla, to people who mainly care about showing off their prize speed-machine, but who have – deliberately or not – reduced their carbon footprint by driving on electricity rather than fossil fuels. Musk’s story may not come across as the usual heartwarming story of helping a deprived group in society, as we have seen in the case of Muhammad Yunus, but his actions are not any less socially driven. As stated earlier: whether that is his agenda or not, Elon Musk produces electric cars that cause far less pollution in our air than those that run on gasoline. Through his renewable energy company, he tries to make humanity less dependent on the unsustainable fossil fuels, one solar panel, and one Tesla car at the time.

Musk’s approach, therefore, illustrates that we should consider adopting a broader view of what social entrepreneurship is. The ultimate purpose of an action, and what is attained thereby, should also be considered within this context. The fact that Musk caters to the affluent rather than the poor demands a paradigm shift in our perception of social entrepreneurship, but who says that the rich don’t need as much help as the poor, albeit in entirely different regards? Musk’s companies are aimed to sort impact by spawning a systematic revolutionary change in the way we use energy. He is changing a destructive status quo, which has been in place for far too long. This is why he fits the label of a social entrepreneur very well.

It is also good to know that money was not Elon Musk’s main driver in creating his current corporations. He has stated on several forums over time that his aim, from his college days on, was to affect the future in a positive way (Krasny 2014). According to Musk, he gets motivated by observing things that don’t work well, becoming saddened about the impact this trend might have on the future, and a desire to fix it toward a better future (Sun 2016). Thus, the fact that the positive change Musk envisions with his activities happens in a high-dollar industry should be seen as a side effect, but not the ultimate driver. His plan with Tesla is to follow the three-step process that seems to be tied to new technology: first a low volume, high expensive product, then a medium-priced, medium-volume iteration, and finally, a low-priced, high-volume cycle. The fact that Tesla cars are still rather pricey today should therefore not be a predictor for the future production cycles (Sun 2016).

Mack (2016) also proposes the perception of Elon Musk being a social entrepreneur, since, according to his article, all Musk’s actions are motivated by his concern about climate change and the use of fossil fuels that greatly promote this occurrence. He underlines the fact that large-scale use of fossil fuels will inevitably lead to future harm. He has been working on a massive facility to make batteries that will store renewable energy, hoping that villages in poorer countries will be able to use low-cost energy, and thus progress at a greater pace. He admits that he cannot do it alone: according to his calculations, there are about 100 giga-factories, such as the one he has built, needed worldwide. He, therefore, does not shy away from sharing his strategies, as his hope is, that more companies will follow suit, which will result in an accelerated transition to more sustainable energy worldwide.

With all of the points made above, Elon Musk could be considered a decent example of a contemporary leader practicing “right view.” He has the ability to not only consider the major challenges our world faces, but also actively and devotedly work on finding solutions to these seemingly insurmountable problems. Musk is not an advocate of incrementalism but has revolutionary views on redesigning the future. His visions are not years but decades ahead of their time (Vance 2012). As a business leader, Musk actively works on addressing the heavy toll we have thus far taken on our environment and on finding a solution for our evergrowing human population. In regard to the first, his Tesla automobiles that drive on electricity rather than unsustainable and environment contaminating fossil fuels speak volumes. In regard to the latter, he has been diligently evolving Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, the first-ever private company to deliver cargo to the Space Station, as mentioned before. While the current activities of SpaceX are rather lucrative, Musk focuses on the bigger picture: occupying Mars as humanity’s second home (Vandermey 2013). Having been likened to Steve Jobs more than once, Musk’s most outstanding leadership quality, similar to Jobs, is not invention but vision. Having acquired a design thinking mindset through an early interest in science and history, and holding degrees in physics as well as business (Vandermey 2013), Musk has developed the critical leadership skill of seeing past the here and now, and responding to needs that are still considered insoluble by most. For that very reason, Musk has been called one of the greatest optimists in history, definitely when considering an optimist within the scope of physicist David Deutsch, who describes optimists as people who believe that “any problem that does not contradict the law of physics can ultimately be solved” (Vandermey 2013, p. 90).

Musk has determined for himself what a better future for humanity should look like, and he has inspired an entire legion of workers to help him realize this vision. He worked hard on his dream even before there was any external confidence in his vision, and he himself had a little or no certainty that he would succeed. In an interview, Musk explained that he considers the California bullet train a setback rather than a sign of progress, because it will move people from Los Angeles to San Francisco at a speed of merely 120 miles per hour, something they can achieve on the freeway by car. He boldly expressed his disappointment in such a project in a leading hub in the USA to the California Governor, Jerry Brown, underscoring that we should not focus on the glory of a small group, but on the progress of an entire nation (Musk 2014). Musk’s attitude is one of great example to leaders of today: dream big and constructive with no immediate focus on money, as this will ultimately come in with much more abundance when perceived as a consequence than as a primary goal. Musk’s ideas focus on macro wellbeing, and he has found a way to communicate these ideas in cross-disciplinary ways, leading to increased interest from a broad base of thinkers (Vandermey 2013). Musk is not in the business of merely making a fortune, but in the movement of making an impressive yet sustainable difference for the earth and its inhabitants. He has thus far translated this passion in Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity, and possibly also the Hyperloop , all focused on a better quality of life on (or off) mother earth.

Comparison of the two Cases

Presenting the examples of Muhammad Yunus and Elon Musk brought a few insights, which may be useful to share, as we conclude this section of the chapter. There are some interesting commonalities and some fascinating differences to be detected between these two entrepreneurs (Table 1).
Table 1

Case comparison Yunus versus Musk

Common factors


1. Both entrepreneurs have started their most successful projects on basis of other considerations that making money: They observed a problem in society and decided to fix it. Yunus was disturbed by the status quo of banks refusing to lend money to the poor, simply because poor people have no collateral, so he created a bank specially to lend money to this group. Musk was disturbed by the grim visions of a rapidly overpopulating human society, using fossil fuels that caused harm to the environment, so he started companies that deliver products in renewable energy.

1. Yunus and Musk cater to entirely different customer populations: Yunus focused on the poor and destitute in his country, and wanted to give them a chance to function as “normal citizens,” with similar rights as most. Musk initially focuses on the affluent, who can afford participating in his projects, yet with a long-term vision to make his projects accessible to less affluent members of society as well.

2. Both Muhammad Yunus and Elon Musk are known to be innovative, creative, and very resilient. Yunus has been ousted from his brainchild for political reasons, but is now operating on a much larger scale, spreading and enabling awareness on social entrepreneurship in universities worldwide. Musk has been on the brink of bankruptcy with both, SpaceX and tesla, yet consistently found ways to pursue his dream, and succeeding against all odds.

2. Yunus is an apparent social entrepreneur, as we have come to understand the concept, while Musk, being a billionaire, is not too often considered within a social context. Yet, the differences are potentially mere dollar signs, since the underlying factors are for both still improvement of the quality of life for the living.

3. Both Yunus and Musk are highly intelligent and insightful people: Yunus holds a PhD in economics, while Musk holds two Bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics. Interestingly, their areas of performance are very much aligned to their educational background: Yunus solved an economic problem in his home country and beyond, while Musk focuses on areas related to the intersection between physics and economics to solve the problems that disturb him.

3. Musk’s first business endeavors, while innovative and useful (Zip2 and were not specifically geared toward solving global problems. His urge to tackle major concerns may have always been there, but he was able to actually create businesses around those concepts after making millions with the two early ventures. Microlending was Yunus’ first entrepreneurial project.

4. Both men have endured crises in their personal lives, particularly marriage-related. While not mentioned before, Yunus was married and had a daughter when returning to Bangladesh. His then-wife could not get used to the Bangladeshi turmoil, and returned to the USA with their daughter. He later remarried and got another daughter. He only saw his oldest daughter, now an opera singer, again when she was an adult. Musk has gone through three marriages with two women.

4. Due to the nature of his social project, Yunus focused primarily on women, as they demonstrated a higher level of responsibility in using the funds to the advantage of their entire family. In Musk’s case, his customer base is not defined, but because he currently caters more to the space industry and the affluent, one could conclude that his audience thus far has been slightly more male-dominated.

5. Both men have an urge to share their projects, in hopes that others will follow suit, as they understand that global changes can only be made if there are implementers of their initiatives in multiple nations of the world.

5. Yunus’ microlending project started on a microscale: By lending $27.00 to poor micropreneurs in a Bangladeshi village. Musk’s SpaceX, SolarCity, and tesla companies required major investments from the start.

Why Considering Social Entrepreneurship?

There are many reasons why social entrepreneurship has become such a popular phenomenon these days. As a final note to this chapter, here are some of the reasons that can be useful in considering social entrepreneurship:

Social entrepreneurship is a fulfilling practice. As Yunus presented it: it may not always bring a lot of money, but it definitely brings happiness. When doing something one feels good about, one cannot help but feeling fulfilled, even though there will undoubtedly be many challenges to overcome.

Social entrepreneurship is appreciated in society, and increasingly finds support from philanthropic individuals and entities that seek to be involved in doing the right thing. If, therefore, one has a viable and clearly developed idea on improving the wellbeing of small or large communities, chances are that sponsors and collaborators will emerge.

If one has an urge to become an entrepreneur, why not combine this wonderful quest with a laudable purpose? The generation of millennials that is currently entering the workforce holds high ideals on morally sound practices. A social enterprise fits better in this scope than one that is started for mere commercial causes. As Guy Kawasaki once stated in a Stanford University clip: we should start businesses to either (1) create something new that will bring positive progress, (2) correct something wrong, or (3) discontinue something bad. Yunus and Musk have operated mainly in the areas of points (1) and (2) above: they created corporations that brought positive progress with the underlying mindset of correcting something wrong.

Social entrepreneurs are respected and appreciated, because they are bringing about positive change, which others may have perceived, yet not pursued. By pursuing projects that improve social circumstances, a social entrepreneur steps into a heroic position. Social entrepreneurship opens doors, brings valuable connections, and elevates awareness.

There is never a dull moment in social entrepreneurship. Not all moments may be equally uplifting, but there is so much to explore, and there are so many derivatives that will manifest themselves once one starts with a social entrepreneurial project. Just consider our two examples: Yunus started Grameen Bank , but eventually ventured out into yogurt, mobile phones, savings, insurances, eye hospitals, solar energy, and a general support system for social ventures worldwide. Musk started SpaceX and Tesla, then ventured out into SolarCity, the Hyperloop , and more recently, OpenAI, Neuralink, and The Boring Company.

As human awareness keeps augmenting, due to our massive exposure to multiple cultures , nations, and their problems, the enormous web of social entrepreneurial options reveals itself to younger and more mature individuals with an urge to do well while doing good. This is a very hopeful and proud trend for humanity, and one we should cultivate and bring to full fruition when, how, and where we can.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Woodbury UniversityBurbankUSA

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