What is social enterprise?

And how does it relate to this year’s theme: “Dare to Create?”

In a previous blog post, TEDxGrandviewAve organizer Kacey Wherley defined “create” as “to start something new.” She also stressed that it was not so much about the act of being creative, as it is about taking that first step to create.

That resonated with me, as I thought about how much that theme, as well as TEDx more broadly, this year’s featured speakers, and the stories they’re telling relate to the drive to create social enterprise.

People ask constantly, what do you mean by social enterprise? Is a non-profit a social enterprise? Is our local food co-op a social enterprise? These are complicated and loaded questions, because the term “social enterprise,” just like the word “sustainability,” often means something different to every person or organization who uses it.

However, though it carries many different meanings, at Idea Foundry, we define social enterprise as using responsible, ethical, and accountable business to create sustained, impactful, and positive social change. We consider market-driven solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges the most compelling form of social enterprise, mainly because like all for-profit businesses, they are revenue generating, which makes them financially sustainable, and therefore more impactful, over the long run.

There are so many terms for this: “triple bottom line;” “profit with a purpose;” “business for good;” “conscious capitalism;” and the list goes on. What they all have in common, though, is that they represent this specific type of wide-reaching, innovative, and replicable solutions that spread economic, social, and environmental benefits through our communities. For-profit social enterprises are often elegant models for how we can create a more just and sustainable world through business.

Now, while not all TEDx speakers are social entrepreneurs, especially by the definition laid out above, many of them are. (For example, Thread International, the company of Ian Rosenberger, one of this year’s speakers, was one of the first social enterprise ventures Idea Foundry supported.) This is because social enterprise at a very basic level harkens back to Kacey’s definition of “create,” or to start something new. At its core, social enterprise is designing new solutions to old problems, executing unique ideas that disrupt the status quo in the name of social good.

Social enterprise often starts with a person who is acquainted with a problem, often in their own community, and often on a deeply personal level, such as poor air quality, substandard public transit, widespread unemployment, recidivism, or unequal access to healthy foods. Social enterprise results when that person has the drive to solve that problem, is not afraid to try something new, knows what it takes to accomplish their goals, can rally others around their passion and ideas, and has the courage to just go for it.

So as you’re enjoying this weekend’s TEDxGrandviewAve festivities, my question to you is: What will you do to change the world for the better? What will you Dare to Create?

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Guest post written by Nicole Muise-Kielkucki, manager of social enterprise initiatives at Idea Foundry. Idea Foundry is a sponsor of TEDxGrandviewAve.

To learn more about social enterprise in Pittsburgh,  follow us on twitter at @InterSectorPGH. 

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