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Become a Change Agent: Your Alternatives to Social Entrepreneurship


Become a Change Agent: Your Alternatives to Social Entrepreneurship

by Kate Vandeveld

Social enterprises are taking the social impact world by storm, offering a revenue-generating business model for organizations with socially-focused missions. But becoming a social entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, and there are options for those who are looking for an alternative way to make an impact. Echoing Green senior vice president Lara Galinsky put it well:

“Not everyone should be a social entrepreneur…It’s time for those of us in this field to help young people see the variety of ways and venues in which they can have a social impact.”

Sometimes, it makes more sense to find ways to create impact through existing structures, rather than starting from scratch. Here are a couple of ways that you can be a substantial part of for-profit social impact without starting your own social enterprise:

Social Intrapreneurship

Social intrapreneurship is one effective alternative to building your own social enterprise. Social intrapreneurs have been referred to as “secret change agents,” spearheading socially-conscious missions within larger existing organizations. Like social entrepreneurs, they are motivated by a desire to create social change, and are up to the task of thinking outside the box to do so. Unlike social entrepreneurs that build their own enterprises to create social change, social intrapreneurs find opportunities to create social change within existing organizations, often those that they already work for.

Intrapreneurship may seem like an easier alternative to entrepreneurship – capital is easier to come by and sometimes even guaranteed, resources and infrastructure are already in place, and supporting teams are often built in from the start. But building a new program within an existing organization presents its own unique obstacles. Social intrapreneurs have to work within existing structures, follow rules, and find creative ways to get through red tape.

There are so many inspiring examples of these intrapreneurial change agents. Take General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who saw an opportunity for the company to focus on developing environmentally friendly products, and has made significant strides in turning GE into a major player in renewable energy. Or Gib Bulloch, who realized that his company, Accenture Development Partners, was in a unique position to offer business and technology consulting to organizations involved in the development sector. His motto? “Affecting even small change in large organizations can lead to significant positive social impact.”

These larger-than-life examples are certainly inspiring, but you don’t have to be a CEO to implement social change from the inside out. James Inglesby, a category manager for deodorants and skincare at Unilever, was tasked with looking for new business opportunities for toilet cleaning products. When he discovered that 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to proper sanitation, he decided to develop a program in Ghana that offers Unilever-branded and affordably-priced toilets, as well as a locally-run toilet cleaning service that uses Unilever cleaning products.

So if you see an opportunity to create social change at your day job, don’t dismiss it. Intrapreneurs may not start their own companies, but their efforts to change the way that existing systems work is also extremely valuable. 


Social Franchising

Another alternative to social entrepreneurship is social franchising. McDonald’s and Walmart have given franchising a bad name, but social franchising may just restore your opinion of the concept. Social franchises are simply organizations that replicate a social enterprise business model that has proven to be effective.

There are many benefits to social franchising that makes it an appealing option for creating change. One benefit is that social franchising allows for rapid set-up and scaling. Because the central organization has already gone through the trial and error process and has documented their success, franchisees simply have to replicate the successful approach. Social franchising allows organizations to hit the ground running by adopting proven best practices.

Franchisees have the benefit of starting off with the credibility and support of the central organization, and have an established network to tap into when they need it.  Because the concepts that social franchisees are replicating have already proven to be successful, there is also a much smaller financial risk involved.

Education for Employment (EFE) is a great example of an effective social franchise. EFE is a social enterprise that works to create economic opportunity for unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa by providing professional and technical training that leads directly to jobs and entrepreneurship support. EFE affiliates are locally-run, meaning that each of its branches operate independently, but with EFE’s credibility and access to necessary resources as a part of the EFE franchise. This allows local affiliates to set up and scale quickly, using EFE’s model as a guide while simultaneously crafting solutions that are specific to their area.

Another social franchise model is the micro-franchise. Living Goods, an organization that empowers individuals in Uganda and Kenya to become micro-entrepreneurs, uses the micro-franchise model. Living Goods’ micro-entrepreneurs sell affordable, life-changing products like clean cookstoves and anti-malaria treatments to others in their communities. Living Goods provides them with a below-market inventory loan to get started and a free “Business-in-a-Bag” with uniforms, marketing collateral, and basic health and business tools, as well as training and support along the way.

These examples are just two of many organizations that have used the social franchise model to dramatically scale impact. Social franchising provides passionate individuals with another effective avenue for contributing to social change. 

No one path is necessarily better or more effective than another; what’s important is that you find the path that’s right for you and your talents and you take it.

Know of another alternative to social entrepreneurship when setting out to create social change? Let us know about it in the comments below, or share with us on Facebook or Twitter.