Social Entrepreneurship: The Marriage of Creativity and Innovation

Creativity has two parts: thinking, then producing. Innovation is embedded in the creative process. It is the implementation of creative inspiration.” —Linda Naiman

The term “social entrepreneurship” was first coined in 1953 and then popularized in the 1980s and 1990s as a way to describe the work of organizations whose aim is to improve the well-being of society. Social entrepreneurship differs from entrepreneurship in that its successes are not measured necessarily by profits or revenue, but instead by the ways that society improves as a result of the work.

We know that there over 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. with 10,000 nonprofits in NYC alone. Each aims at addressing a societal problem and righting it. Yet there are still thousands of people living in poverty, homeless, suffering from substance abuse, recidivism, or stigma. We are not all pulling together to keep the environment healthy. There are still many hungry people in this country. What will it take to make a substantial improvement in society’s most pressing issues?

Social entrepreneurship is really about changing a system—a social system. The work of social entrepreneurship is to change the way society views—and mitigates—a problem. But changing a system means changing attitudes, prejudices, and fear.

Last week I wrote about stigma and offered a challenge to consider the ways we allow our fears to overtake reason and statistics. But change cannot subsist on emotional appeal alone. Behind the scenes, there must be strategy and structure that facilitates space for creating and innovating non-traditional solutions to address societal issues that touch us all—directly or indirectly.

The work of social entrepreneurship is to marry a creative solution or idea with very precise infrastructure and strategy to support that work. It means having a plan and being nimble enough to pivot and adjust as new information, technology, policy, or practice offers increased clarity. The key is being able to see what’s coming and not to hold too tightly to the how we’ve always done it—even if a solution worked in the past.

These solutions mean having people working in social enterprises who are brave, who know themselves and who enjoy a good challenge—even conflict—because they know it will make their own thinking better. It means gathering people who not only have brilliant ideas but also those who can innovate and implement those brilliant ideas and precise solutions. We can all be inspired by our work in social entrepreneurship—even in the day-to-day implementation of a great idea.

Every day I think about ways I can improve my own thinking and my own creative approach to solving problems. Gathering people around me who challenge me and who make me better is what inspires me as a leader. What inspires you?