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Social Entrepreneurship: Matchmaking “Marketplace… and Missions”

Effects of the economy are continuing to change how the world works on many levels. For nonprofits,Social Entrepreneurshipone of these adjustments comes in the form of exploring alternative funding sources. As such, the idea of social entrepreneurship is beginning to take a firmer hold. J. Gregory Dees, founder of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, explains this movement: “It combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation, and determination commonly associated with, for instance, the high-tech pioneers of Silicon Valley.”

The buzzword is a somewhat recent development (within the last few decades), but the practice of social entrepreneurship is not new. According to, it can be traced back as early as the 18th century and includes legendary figures such as Florence Nightingale, who established the first nursing school; Maria Montessori, famous for her early education methods; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, known for his initiatives to pull the United States out of the Great Depression.

A recent Courier Post Online article gives some examples of present-day social entrepreneurship successes:

  • Established in 1963, Seattle’s Pioneer Human Services achieves its mission of helping those with mental health, substance abuse, or criminal histories with profits made from several endeavors. Business activities such as warehousing, food service, manufacturing, and distribution now fund a whopping 99 percent of the assistance program.
  • A Zen Buddhist meditation group led by Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, a former aerospace engineer, started Greyston Bakery in 1982. The Yonkers, New York-based business takes the traditional bake sale concept of fund raising to a whole new level. Its website states, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.” Here, the sale of brownies funds such projects as affordable child care, health care for HIV patients, housing for homeless individuals, and technology education. The bakery provides desserts to top-notch New York City restaurants and also has become the sole-source for brownies used in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
  • In 2009, Columbus, Ohio-area Lutheran Social Services invested $40,000 in its Freshbox Catering company. The program looked to the business world for leadership and hired an investment analyst to head up the program. The result was $130,000 in sales the first year. While the fact that the program is paying for itself is amazing, Freshbox is also achieving its greater mission of providing jobs and training for the homeless.

Various sectors are now getting involved with social entrepreneurship. Investment companies such as Prudential and Imprint Capital Advisors are taking notice and looking for opportunities to inject capital into companies with worthwhile agendas. Higher education has also taken note. For example, the Social Entrepreneur Corps, founded in 2005, provides college students and new graduates opportunities in developing countries and has instituted partnerships with schools such as University of Notre Dame, Duke University, and Columbia University. Media is shining a light on social entrepreneurship, too; Bloomberg Businessweek is bringing this approach to the forefront in its third-annual 2011 Social Entrepreneurs Roundup. As per its website:  “Here’s what we are looking for: entrepreneurs creating profitable, scalable companies to solve social problems. We want businesses with social missions baked into their operations, not tacked on as extras. We want companies that can demonstrate results, both in the marketplace and in their missions.”

As evidenced by Greyston Bakery and many other organizations, this blending of “marketplace… and missions” can be a recipe for success.

For further reading:

“Seeking America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs” – Bloomberg BusinessWeek (submissions accepted through March 31)

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About Fonda Kendrick

Fonda Kendrick has over ten years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, a portion of which entails coordinating volunteers. She also enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub.

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