What is a Social Entrepreneur

A social entrepreneur is an individual who applies business and management skills to tackle chronic societal problems with sustainable solutions. In David Bornstein’s words, “Social entrepreneurs are path breakers with a powerful new idea, who combine visionary and real-world problem solving creativity, have a strong moral fibre, and who are ‘totally possessed’ by their vision of change.” Ashoka supports leading social entrepreneurs. We call them Ashoka Fellows.

Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve problems by changing systems, spreading the solutions, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. Every leading social entrepreneur is a mass recruiter of local changemakers. They are role models proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.

Social entrepreneurs often seem to be “possessed” by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision.

Over the past two decades, the citizen sector has discovered what the business sector learned long ago: There is nothing as powerful as a new idea in the hands of a first-class entrepreneur.


Historical Examples of Leading Social Entrepreneurs

Susan B. Anthony (U.S.): Fought for Women's Rights in the United States, including the right to control property and helped spearhead adoption of the 19th amendment.

Vinoba Bhave (India): Founder and leader of the Land Gift Movement, he caused the redistribution of more than 7,000,000 acres of land to aid India's untouchables and landless.

Mary Montessori (Italy): Developed the Montessori approach to early childhood education.

Florence Nightingale (U.K.): Founder of modern nursing, she established the first school for nurses and fought to improve hospital conditions.

Margaret Sanger (U.S.): Founder of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she led the movement for family planning efforts around the world.

John Muir (U.S.): Naturalist and conservationist, he established the National Park System in the United States and helped found The Sierra Club - the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States.

Jean Monnet (France): Responsible for the reconstruction of the French economy following World War II, including the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC and the European Common Market were direct precursors of the European Union.


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