Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Makes a Social Entrepreneur?

Cheryl Dorsey of Echoing Green, presented her list of qualities and characteristics of social entrepreneurs at the most recent 99% Behance Conference. She described these characteristics as Social Entrepreneur Intelligence-SEQ, a behavioral model that profiles the positive attributes of this truly special group of people. Echoing Green considers investing and supporting a social venture, using the following characteristics of the entrepreneurs as a measure of the potential of the project:

Ability to execute with alacrity
Solutions oriented, not just generating ideas
Assets based thinking- every problem is an opportunity
Obligation to a cause
Resource magnets

I have been working with entrepreneurs for many years in my coaching and consulting practice and have done personality and career tests that assess their strengths and weaknesses, social and emotional intelligence, and leadership abilities. These assessments are based on well researched theories and models of organizational behavior. The profile of a social entrepreneur is not all that different from many of the entrepreneurs I have worked it. Yet there is something more .

I liked Cheryl Dorsey's list of traits of social entrepreneur intelligence and I would add a few more traits that entrepreneurs in general display such as: grit, passion, optimism, outside of the box thinking, energy, visionary. Social entrepreneurs seem to have an uber dose of these characteristics because of the additional challenge of creating a profitable mission driven venture.

In the last two weeks I have had the privilege of interviewing three social entrepreneurs, Enmi Kendall of Replyforall, Kevin Jones of Good Capital and Xavier Helgeson of Better World Books. Each of them spoke about the strengths that they brought to the project. One needs to not look much further than these examples to find some essential qualities for a social entrepreneur to have.

Humility coming from an appreciation of the good fortune in their life
Social causes as recurring themes throughout their life and work
Willingness to self sacrifice for a cause
Understanding the importance of listening and learning
Absence of need to attain personal fortune
Ability to sustain a high degree of uncertainty
Determination to challenge the status-quo of business as usual-that the sole purpose of business is to make a profit

Enmi hopes that the distinctions between entrepreneur and social entrepreneur will disappear as all business will take on the mission to create a better world.

If you have a passion to create a social venture, does it matter if you have these traits? Can you develop them if you don't have them? All entrepreneurs are a special breed. Either they are driven to do their own business, or not. In the end, you are an entrepreneur or a social entrepreneur, if you think you are.

I look forward to posting to my interviews with these three exceptional social entrepreneurs and the stories of their social ventures. (see July post on Better World Books)

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